The arden is a name for a woodland area in England, mainly in Warwickshire, but also covering parts of Staffordshire and Worcestershire. It is believed to be derived from a Brythonic word, ardu- “high” (or “hill”). The forest was thickly forested and bounded by Roman roads, such as Icknield Street, Watling Street, and Fosse Way. In addition, a prehistoric salt track bounded the south side of the forest.
The name arden is related to the biblical garden of Eden, and it is a term used to describe the most beautiful parts of a forest. It is also the name of an English play by Shakespeare and a popular hotel and country club complex in the United States.
The ancient forest of Arden, once bounded by the Roman road Icknield Street and the medieval salt track that surrounded it, was the largest in the Kingdom of Great Britain. It encompassed an area that corresponded to the north-western half of the traditional county of Warwick. It was a vast, remote and uninhabited forest of considerable natural beauty with extensive areas of woodland.
In the medieval period, the forest of Arden was protected by Royal Forest law. This essentially meant that landowners in the forest could only sell their land in certain ways, such as through auction or through the Royal Forest court, which was headed by a Verderer. The verderer was an expert in all matters relating to the land and its management.
It was an extremely important source of food and water, and the verderers were responsible for ensuring the health and safety of those living in the forest. Those who lived in the forest were sometimes called “woodmen”.
Villages across the region are named after the forest, including Henley-in-Arden, Tanworth-in-Arden and Hampton-in-Arden. In the Middle Ages, the forest was a major centre of resistance to the Reformation. Robert Catesby, a leader of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, was a native of Lapworth in Arden, and his family was a prominent and influential Catholic family.
Today the Forest of Arden is a largely rural area, but the forest is still home to some important historic sites such as Henley-in-Arden and the former Iron Age hillfort at Coleshill. The forest is also a significant tourist attraction, with several hotels and country clubs located within the area.
The forest is an important part of the landscape in southern Warwickshire, with a UK National Trail running through it known as the Arden Way. It also borders the Cannock Chase AONB and Cotswolds AONB, and has a number of rivers flowing through it, including the River Cole.