If you look on the usual maps of Great Britain, you may well find such exciting places as the Peak District, the Malverns and the New Forest, but curiously you wont necessarily find a label announcing the Marches. And that is unusual because the March of Wales has been around, in terms of identification, long before the others had their moniker’s attached.
You also be surprised to learn that, and please correct me if I am wrong, there are no brown signs indicating when you have entered or left the Marches. In the next Bald Explorer, I intend to discover why that is.
The Anglo-Saxon Christian King Offa is said to be responsible of the 70 mile man-made ditch that runs almost the entire length along the border between England and Wales. He was the King of Mercia from 757 to 796AD. His famous Dyke was at the beginning of trying to define where one country starts and the other finishes, but nothing in the Marches is as simple as that and both the Anglo-Saxons and the Welsh kept pushing the borders forwards and back.
When the Normans invaded just after the middle of the 11th Century the lines became even more blurred. This borderland was handed over to a series of Barons who turned their territory into mini kingdoms complete with independence from the crown. The Welsh were pushed west and up into the mountainous hills and castles and strong holds were constructed to guard the frontier lands. But this great region was not stable, even from themselves. The Welsh would battle against their own countrymen and the Norman Lords did likewise. The Marches became divided and parceled up further increasing the lordships, kingdoms and consequently, the resentments. This continued for hundreds of years.
Even though Henry VIII eventually took away the Marcher Lords power and dissolved their independence, forming new shires and counties in the mid 16th Century, the term Marches has adhered to this undefined borderland. The map may depict in black and white an exact spot where the each country switches to the other, but those that live in the Marches may tell you that they live neither in England nor Wales, but somewhere far more unique; that fascinating place in between.