The Forest of Arden
The arden is a beautiful, rural area of England that has a long history. It is located next to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare lived and wrote many of his plays. It was also the birthplace of the poet Robert Catesby, a leader of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and is where many key engagements of English Civil War took place.
The Forest of Arden (Brythonic – “high”, “dense”) was once a large, thickly forested area that included all of the modern counties of Warwickshire and Worcestershire in England. It was not a royal forest, as in other parts of the country, and there is no evidence that it was subject to any form of forest law. The forest bounded the Roman roads Icknield Street, Watling Street and Fosse Way, as well as a salt track from Droitwich, and was the home of a number of Iron Age hill forts.
It was a major area of land for the people living in it, supplying much needed timber and other essential goods. It is not surprising, then, that it was the site of numerous battles and military campaigns throughout its history.
During the medieval era, it was an important area of settlement for a number of different groups of people. These were the ‘assarts’, whose ancestors had been forced to leave their land in other parts of the kingdom as a result of a variety of factors including raiding, the Black Death, and religious upheaval. They were given ‘free burgage tenure’ in the lords’ manors, which meant that they did not owe service to the lord as villeins but paid rent.
In the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, the lords of the Forest of Arden were seeking to expand their holdings and control over their lands. They encouraged the planting of towns and villages, such as Henley-in-Arden and Tanworth-in-Arden. They commissioned the building of many houses and church buildings, as well as the construction of an extensive canal network to connect them.
Today, the arden is still an important area for both people and wildlife. The area is home to a number of woodland areas and a variety of rivers and lakes.
It is an excellent destination for walking, cycling and driving in the summer months as well. Several trails are available in the area. The Arden Way is a waymarked UK National Trail and can be accessed from the village of Henley-in-Arden, and there are also other cycle routes that run through the forest.
There are a number of historic buildings and churches in the area that are worth exploring. Some of the most interesting include Henley Church, a large Norman building that was rebuilt in the fifteenth century, and Knowle Cathedral, which was built in the eleventh century.