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IT WAS a source of inspiration to the Bard but according to a travel guide, Stratford should be renamed ''ordinary little place-upon- Avon.''

Shakespeare's birthplace has come in for some harsh criticism in the most recent edition of the Rough Guide to Britain.

The guide describes Stratford as ''an unremarkable market town with a pedigree that's unexceptional but for one little detail: in 1564 the wife of a local merchant, John Shakespeare, gave birth to William Shakespeare.''

It continues: ''This ordinary little place is all but smothered by package- tourist hype and tea shoppe quaintness, representing the worst of 'England- land' heritage marketing.''

Other towns and cities have come in for some equally unflattering portrayals in the guide. Liverpool is described as the ''symbol of a nation in decline'' and Buckingham Palace is the ''site of a notorious brothel.''

But South Warwickshire Tourism has shrugged off the criticism. Marketing manager Ann Taylor said: ''There are so many guides on the market and they are all very subjective views and the whole purpose of some of them is to be controversial as this one is.

''We understand that and are big enough to take that because we know what the place is like and why people come here and love it.''

The association has also defended an unnamed staff member at Stratford's Tourist Information Office who was quoted in yesterday's Guardian as saying visitors to Stratford were ''mostly happy to go to the theatre, sleep through a play and have a wander around.''

Ms Taylor says the worker was not aware they were being interviewed at the time and added: ''We would say the Royal Shakespeare Company is one of the most fantastic things about the area. …