England (Lonely Planet)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am

The stereotypically English quality of quaintness permeates the Lonely Planet guide to England.

It is a goldmine of funny traditions, cosy nooks and sleepy cathedrals, with not a 'chav' (a member of England's white-trash subculture) in sight.

However, when Lonely Planet examines urban areas imbued with less obvious appeal than the country's villages, it sometimes fails to convince. Consider this description of the Brum Nightlife Walking Tour: 'Birmingham by night is one of the most buzzing, vibrant metropolises in the UK - no onlooker could call this part of the world drab after a wander through the streets at midnight on Friday,' the guide says.

Insiders may have a different perspective on Birmingham and other provincial cities paraded as regenerated capitals of cool. But the guide is at least accurate about the mongrel heritage of the people dotted across England. They proudly observe traditions such as erecting Christmas trees (borrowed from Germany) and maypoles (of Celtic origin) 'then wash down a chicken madras curry - the nation's most popular meal - with Foster's or Bud. Meanwhile, their kids mix distinctive regional accents with intonations apparently perfected in Queensland or California.'

Vignettes on the country's landmarks are pithy. Look at the guide's take on Stonehenge: 'Mysterious, moody and maddening - the iconic symbol of prehistoric England.'

The guide feels like an almanac that will enlighten and entertain even the native inhabitants. It also lives up to the Lonely Planet slogan emblazoned on the inside back cover under the Web address: 'Almost too much information.' Yes.

England (Lonely Planet) is available from Hong Kong bookshops for HK$260.