The arden is an area of wooded land near the geographical centre of England. It was formerly thickly forested and known as the Forest of Arden, derived from a Brythonic word ardu- “high”, but it was never subject to forest law. Rather, it was surrounded by Roman roads such as Icknield Street and Watling Street as well as Fosse Way, while a salt track ran through the southern part.
Ancient forests existed in the area but not of the same scale as the Forest of Arden, such as the royal forests at Sutton Park in Anglo-Saxon England and Feckenham in the early Norman era. In contrast to other areas of the country, it was still relatively wild and untamed in the medieval period.
Many villages in the area feature a distinctive Triassic white heterolithic sandstone quarried in the vicinity of Arden, known as ‘arden sandstone’ because of its high levels of calcium carbonate (lime). It is thought that this stone was used to build buildings throughout the area, including temples, churches and castles.
The area became largely settled in the eleventh century, when it was part of a growing trend of settlement of assarts by free burgesses who would not owe service to a Lord of the Manor but had the freedom of their own lands and a right to a share of the profits from those lands. As a result of this, some villages such as Henley-in-Arden and Tanworth-in-Arden saw the number of inhabitants increase significantly.
In the late medieval era, the Forest of Arden became deforested and enclosed. It was also the site of several large battles, including those fought during the English Civil War.
Today, the arden is home to several towns and villages in Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and parts of neighbouring counties, as well as to the Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club complex. Tourism plays an important role in the economy of the area, and is a major source of income for local residents.
Various forms of woodland, including oak and lime woods, still exist in the forest. The area is also a nature reserve with a section of the National Trail running through it, called the Arden Way.
It is also a protected area for wildlife and birdlife, including red squirrels, blackbirds and bats. This makes it a popular place for hiking, walking, cycling and wildlife watching.
The arden is also a place of interest for historians and archaeologists. It is the location of many ancient and historic sites, some of which have been rediscovered by archaeologists in recent years.