England once looked very different. Much of southern Britain was marshland for most of the island’s occupied history. These bogs, fens, and marshes ensured that areas of virtual wilderness persisted from before Roman Britain through the Norman period and beyond. Despite the difficulties of using fenlands, these areas were not only occupied throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, but important centers like Croyland, Bardney, and Ely eventually developed in the marsh.
The largest fenland region was known as ‘the Wash’. This low-lying region drained four rivers into a square bay of the North Sea that forms the corner between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. In Anglo-Saxon times, this tidal marsh and bog was a vast border region between the region of Lindsey and East Anglia. Places like Croyland and Ely were islands in the wetlands. The eighth century Life of Guthlac describes the environment of Croyland when Guthlac arrived:
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