New guide roughs up tourist spots

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THE PUBLISHERS of the first Rough Guide to England were unrepentant yesterday about their no-holds-barred criticism of some of the country's most popular tourist destinations, saying they thought, if anything, they had been kind.

The guide describes the Regency spa town of Cheltenham as 'not a place you're likely to want to linger in', and Sheffield, which attracts 20 million visitors a year, as a destination to tempt only 'the most die-hard of tourists'.

The book, published in London and aimed at low- budget travellers from Australasia and North America, is so acidic that some of its British researchers have been warned to never again set foot in the towns they wrote about.

Other targets of their merciless attacks include Reading and Slough (both 'fairly hideous'), East Anglia ('renowned for being featureless and boring'), and Herne Bay in Kent ('a relic from a bygone age').

The least compassion shown by the 12 authors is for Liverpool and Sheffield. The entry for Liverpool, home to the Walker and Tate art galleries, begins: 'If one city in England could be said to stand as a symbol of a nation in decline, it would be Liverpool.'

Sheffield is described in terms that are even less inviting: the guide says that in the city centre, visitors will observe 'some of the most dispiriting landscapes imaginable'.

John Heeley, Sheffield's director of tourism, was annoyed: 'I'm not confident anybody who could write a piece like that has actually visited our city. One-third of Sheffield is within the Peak District National Park.'

But Jonathan Buckley, 37, of Birmingham, editor of many Rough Guides to other European destinations, was unperturbed. He said he regarded the description of northern Kent ('a scenic and cultural wasteland') as 'actually quite kind', and, he pointed out, 'the pages on Sheffield were written by a Yorkshireman'.