The Forest of Arden
The arden is a name used for a large area of woodland in Warwickshire, England, which traditionally stretches from the River Avon to the River Tame. The forest was once thickly forested and surrounded by Roman roads, including Icknield Street, Watling Street, Fosse Way and a salt track leading from Droitwich.
It is now mainly rural and largely deforested, although the forest is still protected as a national park. The Forest of Arden is a popular recreational area, and it has been named one of the UK’s “National Nature Reserves” by the Natural England organisation.
Some towns in the arden include Henley-in-Arden, Tanworth-in-Arden and Hampton-in-Arden. It is also home to many villages and hamlets. The arden has been the site of important historical events and battles.
In the medieval period, the area became dominated by a number of royal forests subject to forest law. These were often smaller than the vast Forest of Arden. The earliest of these forests was Sutton Park in the Anglo-Saxon era, while Feckenham Forest was established by the early Normans.
There was little settlement in the forest until the eleventh century, as landowners sought to expand their holdings and political power. As a result, the first major wave of settlement of assarts (small, self-governing burgesses) took place from the eleventh century onwards.
The arden was an important centre for the Knights Hospitaller during the Middle Ages, with a preceptory at Temple Balsall. The area was also a center of resistance to the Reformation, and it is believed that many local families held Catholic sympathies during this time.
An ancient mark stone, the Coughton wayside cross, was located at the southern edge of the forest and is believed to have been a place where travellers would pray for safe passage through the forest. This stone still stands, and is now owned by the National Trust.
In the sixteenth century, a large number of the key engagements of the English Civil War were fought in the arden, as were some of the most important events of the Gunpowder Plot. Robert Catesby was a native of Lapworth, in the forest, and is reputed to have been a leader of the plot.
The arden has been the site of numerous historical and cultural events, and is an attractive destination for visitors. Its landscape is characterized by the unique triassic white heterolithic sandstone that has been quarried from the surrounding area. The sandstone is a unique material that is rich in calcium carbonate, known as ‘lime’. This lime-bearing rock creates a reddish hue in the rocks that are formed from this material.