The Fenland of eastern England has been called ‘liminal’ by scholars of Anglo-Saxon literature, history, and archaeology. Surely one of the most variously depicted food-source landscapes in the Middle Ages, the Fenland is idealized on one hand in Felix’s Vita sancti Guthlaci (ca. 730-40) as the austere testing-ground of a hermit’s piety, as the English equivalent to the Antonine desert, and on the other hand in Richard of Ely’s Gesta Herwardi (ca. 1110-30) as a locus amoenus, a ‘delightful place’ whose endless bounty can nourish English rebels indefinitely against William the Conqueror. Exploring this contrast allows us to understand better how different literary genres can imaginatively re-work elemental and alimentary features of the natural environment.
This paper asks if the landscape of medieval Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire was a barrier to cultural interaction or if it was, instead, a central resource and cultural meeting place. An interdisciplinary approach is adopted in order to explore relationships between those who interacted with this woodland landscape. Findings indicate that medieval Charnwood was different to surrounding areas in terms of topography, land use, and settlement. However, the marginality of Charnwood may have been overemphasized. Far from being an inhospitable wilderness, medieval Charnwood was a utilised landscape – one that was central to the culture and economy of surrounding communities.