“Five rivers, like the fingers of a hand,
Flung from black mountains, mingle, and are one
Where sweetest valleys quit the wild and grand,
And eldest forests, o’er the silvan Don,
Bid their immortal brother journey on,
A stately pilgrim, watched by all the hills.”
Ebenezer Elliot (1781-1849) known as the ‘Corn-Law Rhymer’
It’s only when you look back and see what was written historically that you can see just how much things have changed. Take the River Don and its catchment. Once it held the unfortunate title of being one of the most polluted rivers in Europe, now the river is healthy again, due to the fact that legislation has been tightened, and not least by the fact that Blackburn Meadows Sewage Treatment Plant has been upgraded.
Sheffield now has a healthy population of grayling and trout and, as we see every autumn, a few salmon try to ascend the river near Doncaster only to be stopped by the presence of weirs.
Since working for the Trust I have taken an interest in literary references to the River Don and its tributaries, sparked off by a couple of quotes; the first included in a powerpoint talk by Mark Tinsdeall of Yorkshire Water and the second mentioned in a book written by our very own Chris Firth MBE
“Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be the ugliest town in the Old World…the shallow river that runs through the town is usually bright yellow with some chemical or other.”
George Orwell ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ (1937)
The canal flowing yellow through Sheffield as a result of pollution
“In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the River Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.”
‘Ivanhoe’ Walter Scott (1820)
Two very contrasting views of the Don and written just over 100 years apart. What will be written in 2037 after a distance of another 100 years?