DURING the early middle ages, the borderlands between England and Wales were known as the Marches. For hundreds of years the area was the scene of conflict between different factions of the Welsh princes to the west, and the Saxon kings and later Norman Lordships and the English Crown to the east.

Hotly contested, the border shifted regularly, depending on who had the upper hand at the time. As a result the Marches became a wild frontier, scattered with hundreds of castles and fortified residences.

Centuries later, some would argue not a lot has changed, with the borderlands between England and Wales still displaying some of that strange and unique character that comes from having a foot in both camps.

"The Marches was an area I would pass through with my family on our way to other destinations," explains writer Myrddin ap Dafydd, author of a new book called The Welsh Marches - From The West. "That could be in England, Scotland or even the continent, so it always felt like a place you didn't take much notice of."

Determined to put this right and using Offa's Dyke as a guide, Myrddin decided to roam the Marches (the term comes from the Old English word mierce or myrce derived from the Germanic word mark meaning 'wild and empty land'), searching for stories and delving deep into its history.

"Over the years I've enjoyed some very good visits to some of those towns and cities on the border and I've noticed they have a very distinctive character of their own," he says. "I call it 'land between land' and because of their history they've always been on the edge of some kind of empire. It was the edge of the Roman empire and later it was the edge of the Norman conquest and it means it's full of history and stories, characters and colour and it's managed to keep a very strong flavour of that heritage."

In the book, Myrddin compares the Marches to an eastern coastline to Wales, guarding its culture and controlling its fate, with its marshes and mountains offering a natural border.

"It's a fascinating place and over the last two or three years I've made a point of going there rather than passing through and I've discovered a wealth of places and it's been a joyous journey," continues Myrddin, who made plenty of forays into Flintshire and Wrexham. "What fascinated me most about Flintshire and Wrexham was Halkyn Mountain, which is basically where heavy industry started in Wales going back to the Roman times.

"The Romans mined the mountain because they wanted lead for their pipes and they couldn't have a warm bath in Chester without Flintshire lead. That's the story of empires: they build cities and they need all kinds of other resources and that's what you find time and time again in the Welsh Marches."

As Myrddin writes in the book, the Welsh and English are sometimes 'uneasy neighbours', with the author describing in detail some of the grisly punishments meted out to Welshmen caught staying overnight in Chester.

"On both sides of the border I found both sets of people to be very friendly," he laughs. "They're very interested in their history and in their relationship with the Welsh. I remember a shopkeeper in Whittington, who was an amazing character, gave me this line which will stay with me: 'Back then we English were more Welsh than we are now' which I thought really captures the spirit of the Welsh Marches."

A poet and publisher from the Conwy Valley, Myrddin has twice won the National Eisteddfod Chair, at Cwm Rhymni in 1990 and St David's in 2002. He has also adjudicated at the Eisteddfod numerous times over the years. He was the first Children's Laureate of Wales in 2000 and has published a number of books for young people on Welsh history and folklore. Last year it was announced he will officiate as the Archdruid at the Eisteddfod for the period from 2019-22.

"A number of people have tried to persuade me to be nominated for the post of Archdruid over the years, many of whom I respect greatly, but the one thing which made a difference this time was that it was a group of poets from a younger generation who wanted to put my name forward. I felt the time had come for me to accept the honour, and I am now very much looking forward to the work. Of course, being part of the festival in the Conwy Valley will mean so much to me.

"It will be great to be able to reward and honour the great talents and benefactors of our culture. The post is also a chance to strengthen, extend and defend all things Welsh, which includes resisting the narrow and insular tendencies coming from the direction of London, and creating new supporters for our culture in other countries."

The Welsh Marches - From The West, by Myrddin ap Dafydd is out now, published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch.