The arden is a large area of forest in the counties of Warwickshire and Staffordshire, England. The name is believed to be derived from the Brythonic word ardu- “high” or “highland”. It was thickly wooded, and is often referred to as the Forest of Arden.
Historically, the Forest of Arden was largely untamed and uninhabited. It was not subject to forest law, a system which governed the management of woodland. This may have been due to the density and size of the area, and the dangers associated with woodland, such as bears and wolves.
In the Roman era, the forest was heavily used for hunting. It was also an important source of food. In the early medieval period, the Forest of Arden became more settled. In this period, the forests of Sutton Park and Feckenham were established, which had forest laws.
The Forest of Arden was part of the County of Warwick, which was a traditional county that stretched from Stratford-upon-Avon in the south to Tamworth in the north. It included all of modern-day Warwickshire as well as parts of the cities of Birmingham and Coventry.
It was a densely forested area that surrounded the geographical centre of England. It was bounded by the Roman roads Icknield Street, Watling Street, Fosse Way and a salt track which branched off from Droitwich in the south.
At the southwestern edge of the Forest of Arden is an ancient stone wayside cross called the Coughton Cross. This is said to have been a site where travellers would pray for safe passage through the forest.
A small number of former Iron Age hill forts can be found in the forest. Several of these have been excavated, including the site of Henley-in-Arden in the valley of the River Alne near Birmingham.
The Knights Templar were present in the forest in the 12th century, and they owned a preceptory at Temple Balsall. It is also said that Robert Catesby, leader of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, was from Lapworth, a village in Arden.
Another notable feature of the Forest of Arden is the ‘Arden Sandstone’ which is a distinctive Triassic white heterolithic sandstone quarried in the forest and used to build many buildings in the area. This sandstone is particularly unique because it contains a high level of calcium carbonate, resulting in a distinctive reddish hue when exposed to sunlight.
Today, the arden is a popular tourist destination. It is home to a number of historical sites, a golf course, and the Arden Academy, one of the top independent schools in the United Kingdom.