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The pleasure of travel and friends

20 July 2012

This cheerful tour-diary covers more than just cloisters, declares Leigh Hatts

The nave at Chichester: from Jon Cannon's Cathedral: The great English cathedrals and the world that made them, 600-1540, a guide to their art, architecture, and history, published in 2007, and now out in paperback (Constable, £18.99 (£17.10); 978-1-84901-679-7)

The nave at Chichester: from Jon Cannon's Cathedral: The great English cathedrals and the world that made them, 600-1540, a guide to their art, arch...

Round the Cloisters: 49 Anglican Cathedrals in England and Wales and the Isle of Man
Mick Escott
SilverWood £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50 (Use code CT926 )

MICK ESCOTT, having visited 92 English Football League clubs for his book Round the Turnstiles, has now completed visits to all the Anglican cathedrals in England, Wales, and the Isle of Man.

He did so over 19 months, in the company of a changing band of friends, and the result is a very fat paperback written like a diary, with much unexpected detail, and a huge cast of ecclesiastical characters and cathedral cats.

But the former arts administrator sometimes gives the impression that he may be more interested in the buildings than in what happens in them. He appears to be happy visiting Truro Cathedral on Palm Sunday while remaining quite unconcerned about missing the palm procession. He seems pleased, however, that his inspection of Manchester coincides with the Labour Party Conference service.

A small new cathedral presents little problem in filling a chapter, since other churches nearby are often included. So tiny Birmingham is bolstered by visits to the Roman Catholic cathedral designed by Augustus Pugin, and the Oratory where Blessed John Henry Newman has become the new attraction. Even the Chichester chapter embraces Arundel Cathedral, Lancing College chapel, and Brighton's piers.

St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol is described as "the only church in the country which might be put forward as a rival to its city's cathedral".

The party always tests the guided tour, and this produces a fund of uncheckable stories, such as the claim that the Pontius Pilate figure at Truro Cathedral is based on Edward VII. Escott also manages to secure sometimes revealing interviews with a dean or canon.

The bibliography lists the architectural expert Nikolaus Pevsner, and I suspect that this writer can have achieved his own delightful accounts only by following the Pevsner discipline of writing up notes the same day.

The sometimes obsessive detail about food, pubs, and Premier Inn prices is slightly reminiscent of a round robin in The Christmas Letters by Simon Hoggart. But the cathedral-café reviews could be useful. Southwark's refectory comes top with him for food, and stays in the top ten for "environment". Salisbury, he says, has "com-petitive" prices. Simon Russell Beale, who features twice in the book, has contributed the fore-word, recommending the coffee at St Paul's Cathedral, where he was a chorister.

A 582-page book really should have had an index. But this is a very enjoyable record of a tour that many would like to have time to try.

Leigh Hatts is editor of In SE1, a South Bank arts magazine.

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