The arden is an area of thickly forested land encompassing parts of the counties of Warwickshire and Staffordshire in England. It is a large and remote region and is often considered to be a part of the English countryside.
The name of the arden comes from the Brythonic word ardu- meaning “high” or “highland”. It is believed that Shakespeare derived his play As You Like It from the real-life arden of Henley-in-Arden, which is just to the north of the city of Stratford-upon-Avon, where his mother was born.
In the medieval era, the Forest of Arden was a largely forested and untamed region, which despite its proximity to the centre of the country, remained relatively unexploited. It was surrounded by Roman roads Icknield Street, Watling Street and Fosse Way that went around the forest instead of through it, and by a prehistoric salt track which bounded the southern edge.
There were a number of settlements within the forest including Henley-in-Arden, Coleshill, Ulverlei and Lapworth. These were inhabited during the Iron Age and Roman eras.
As well as being a rich natural resource the forest was also an important political and economic centre. In the eleventh century it was granted to the Knights Templar, who owned a preceptory near Temple Balsall in the forest, and during the late thirteenth century it became a base for the Knights Hospitaller.
During the sixteenth century it was one of the most important areas in which the English Civil War was fought, with many key engagements being held in the forest, such as the Battle of Camp Hill and the infamous Gunpowder Plot. It was also the site of the first Shakespearean theatre in the world, the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Today the arden is home to a number of towns and villages, as well as an array of recreational amenities. Among them is the famous Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club, and a number of golf courses.
There are also numerous other cultural and historical sites in the arden. A number of these are listed on the National Heritage list.
For example, the Coughton wayside cross was once a popular stop for travellers who would pray before entering the forest. It is now owned by the National Trust and can still be seen at the southwestern corner of the forest near the junction of Icknield Street and the salt track.
The arden is a popular destination for tourists, who come to admire the landscape and experience its history. It is known as a place of great beauty and solitude, and has been described as a ‘hidden gem in the heart of England.’ For this reason, it has been a popular location for many authors and writers, such as James Herriot and Charles Dickens.