A Rough Guide to England? It certainly is

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The Independent Online

England may boast one of the world's largest cities and can claim to have some of the most beautiful countryside on the planet, but that was not enough for it to escape a scathing appraisal in one of the world's top travel guides.

The Rough Guide to England has dealt the nation a damning blow, lambasting its celebrity-obsessed culture and labelling English people as "insular, self-important and irritating".

It describes the country as: "A nation obsessed with toffs and C-list celebs," and goes on to say that political debate on issues such as immigration, Islamic terrorism and street crime is "served up with liberal dollops of celebrity chit-chat. Even the world's most remote communities are on first-name terms with its princes, footballers and pop stars."

It also suggests that the country is suffering from a "national identity crisis" but does reserve some praise for the humour: "The English are devoted to sarcasm on a gigantic scale. Often mistaken as coldness or hostility, the warmth [of the English] is in the humour, a sort of national solidarity that is bred in the bone."

The review concludes with a backhanded compliment, before finishing with another barb. "Of the 200-plus destinations across the world that Rough Guides covers, there is none so fascinating, beautiful and culturally diverse, yet as insular, self-important and irritating, as England," it says. "The only certainty for visitors is that however long you spend in England and however much you see, it still won't be enough to understand the place."

The guide also offers some less-than-complimentary opinions on some of the country's towns and cities. It describes Blackpool, arguably one of Britain's premiere seaside resorts, as "shamelessly brash". Derby is "unexciting", Plymouth is "bland" and, as for the English Riviera, Torquay, "St Tropez it ain't" is The Rough Guide's unforgiving verdict.

But the North-east comes in for possibly the most stinging critique. It says that the area is "a land apart from the rest of England – more remote, less affluent", and it describes the region's distinctive accent as "often impenetrable to outsiders".

Amid the criticism, there is some praise heaped upon some of the country's other towns and landmarks. London's Tate Modern, Coventry's Cathedral and Manchester's Imperial War Museum are all championed by the guide as architectural beauties.

Birmingham is hailed as "one of Britain's most cosmopolitan cities". And the guide says Royal Tunbridge Wells is a "prosperous spa town, surrounded by gorgeous countryside, an elegant and diverting place".

But the overall damning indictment of the country has irked those at Visit England, the national tourism board. Patricia Yates, a spokeswoman, said: "A lot of the review is very tongue in cheek and I would probably agree that we do have an odd sense of humour.

"But our celebrity culture is not necessarily a bad thing. Celebrities like the princes and David Beckham allow people from outside our country to identify with England. With regards to the insular comment, I would have to disagree. English people are very well-travelled and I don't think it's correct at all to say we are insular.

"To say we are self-important is almost a compliment because if there is one criticism that is levelled at English people a lot it is that we don't have the same sense of national identity as perhaps the Scots or the Irish. As for the irritating part," she laughed, "well, I can't really argue with that."

Where's hot... and where's not

Do go to:

Bath: "Unmissable"

Birmingham: "One of Britain's most cosmopolitan cities"

Canterbury: "One of England's most venerable cities"

Cheltenham: "An appealing regency spa town famous for its horse racing"

Glastonbury: "Steeped in Christian lore and Arthurian legend"

Leeds: "There's still a true northern grit to its character"

Manchester: "The city has no realistic English rival outside of London"

Newcastle: "A vibrant cultural scene and nightlife"

Oxford: "Superb architecture, museums and lively student population"

Lake District: "England's most hyped scenic area"

Don't go to:

Derby: "Unexciting"

Essex: "Unappetising"

Torquay: "St Tropez it ain't"

Plymouth: "Bland"