The vast wildernesses of the fens were feared by outsiders, who often saw them as places of contagion, harbouring strange spirits and inhabitants. The eighth century Life of Guthlac describes the environment of Croyland, in present-day Lincolnshire, when Guthlac arrived:
There is in the Midland district of Britain a most dismal fen of immense size, which begins at the banks of the river Granta not far from the camp which is called Gronte (Cambridge) and stretches from the south as far north as the sea. It a very long tract, now consisting of marshes, now of bogs, sometimes with black waters overhung by fog, sometimes studded with woodland islands and traversed by the windings of tortuous streams.
~ Hill, 1981:11 cited in Gowland & Western, Morbidity in the marshes: Using spatial epidemiology to investigate skeletal evidence for malaria in Anglo-Saxon England (AD 410-1050). American journal of physical anthropology 2011
For a taste of the stark beauty of this strange landscape, take a trip to Wicken Fen. The National Trust cares for this nature reserve, one of only four wild fens left in the country, and it’s a stunning place for a walk on a wintry afternoon.