Bm508 restorated

I was surprised by a tweet of Joan Capdevila, border commissioner on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees Orientales:

gp-esfr508-restoration2018-photo06-by-joancapdevila-tweet

about the restauration of the old and worn bm508 west uphill of Coll d’Eina.

gp-esfr508-restoration2018-photo01-by-joancapdevila

While the cross is still well visible, only the ‘8’ of the number 508 was left recognizable. Enough reason for the commission to superimpose a granite plate.

gp-esfr508-restoration2018-photo03-by-joancapdevilagp-esfr508-restoration2018-photo05-by-joancapdevilaOne can argue if it would have been more elegant to place the granite plate just besides it, so as not to cover the original engraved cross. But I herald the efforts of the cross-border commission to maintain and restore the bordermarkers which are lost or damaged. And this restoration gives a good reason to return to this fabulous border-ridge for my own pictures.

How France has lost 8 hectares … secretly

In the Pyrenees, close to Bagnères-de-Luchon at the Bidaubus-hillside, France has lost 8 hectares for no reason. In a way, it is kept secret, decided upon in closed meetings with no publicity or justification. Can it be reversed?

esfr-map-bm407-410-geoportail-large-overview

The Bayonne Treaties 1856-1868
France has a vast length of borders with its neighboring countries. In the south, it’s the borderline in the Pyrenees with Spain and Andorra and that’s the one I’m very familiar with. Once – in terms of binational agreements – it was a vague line but since the 19th century, a very well described borderline complemented by more than 700 bordermarkers. The so-called Bayonne treaties between France and Spain were a result of decennia of investigation, negotiation and tough fieldwork.

Digital measurement of the border
The digital age offers new possibilities to delimitate the border more precisely. That’s where the European INSPIRE-project stepped in from 2007 onwards. The borderline and bordermarkers between France and Spain are precisely measured with gps-devices and the results discussed in the binational committee of the Commission Mixte d’Abornement (CMA). However, in this case (CMA-meeting 2015) its proceedings are not public and we have no idea which arguments were exchanged in case of disagreement. But we can watch the results of the fieldwork and the level of CMA-agreement on this webpage with a nice explanation on this webpage.

The CMA and its important meeting in 2015
The CMA is a binational committee with a long history, discussing and deciding on border-matters and bordermarker-issues on the French-Spanish borderline. There are 4 Spanish members and 3 French members. Its agreements can involve changes of the borderline, apparently without a final binational treaty needed to implement the change.
In 2015 the results of the INSPIRE-fieldwork was discussed in Toulouse and the digitally established borderline was approved. As said, you can check that on the map on this webpage: if the borderline is blue, it is approved. Are there any disagreements? Well, they only mention a since long disagreement at the far western side of the Pyrenees concerning the river Bidassoa.
Still, there are at least two cases in which the borderline was changed, one of them is the border on the Bidaubus hillside. Unfortunately, the proceedings of this meeting being not public (though the proceedings of 2014 and 2012 are available on this page), one wants to know the reasoning.

The Bidaubus hillside
The Bidaubus-hillside is near Bagnères-de-Luchon and SW above the peaceful village of Fos. That’s where the borderline leaves the mountain-ridge and descends to the Garonne. The treaty of 1863 is very explicit about the borderline leaving the ridge from bm407 and going in a straight line via bm408 to the origin of the stream (Ruisseau du Terme) which descends as the borderline to the Garonne. The text itself tells us:

407. Borne au cap de Touète
En ce point, la ligne internationale abandonne la crête et descend par le versant septentrional pour aller directement à l’origine du ruisseau du Terme, appelée aussi Riou-Poudét.
408. Borne sur un rocher, audessus de la naissance du ruisseau du Terme, à 312 mètres de la précédente.
La frontière descend par le cours de ce ruisseau jusqu’à son embouchure dans la Garonne.
409. Borne à cette embouchure, sur la rive droite du ruisseau et à la rive gauche de la Garonne.

In my own words: from bm407 the borderline leaves the ridge and heads directly on the northern slope to the origin of a stream, the “Ruisseau du Terme”. Bm408 is placed (NB: thus in between, inevitably on that direct line)  312m from bm407, on a rock above this beginning of the stream. Then the border follows the course of the stream until its confluence with the Garonne where bm409 is placed. On a map:

esfr-map-bm407-409-google-terrain-with-streams-and-borderderline-according-to-treatyNB: note the northern stream, important in the Bidaubus-conflict in the 1960-ies. It is called the Ruisseau des Réchets. The Spanish argued in the 1960-ies that this stream – as a prolongation of a tiny stream cq cascade NEE of bm408 – should be considered as the Ruisseau du Terme from the Treaty. That is silly because -in that case – the border-commissioners of 1863 would have placed bm408 at another spot.

The original locations of bm407 and 408 (which were rebuilt in the 1950-ies) are indisputable because the foundations of the original markers were still there in the 1950-ies.  Henceforth the borderline as meant and implemented by the 1863-treaty leaves 0% doubt, it can not be interpreted differently. Let’s show it how that upper part looks on the Catalonian ICC-map with its very precise elevation-representation:

esfr-map-bm407-408-direct-line-to-stream-on-iccmap

And look at this historical map (l’État-Major, somewhere between 1820 and 1866, probably drawn before the Treaty of 1863) which shows that in the 19th century the Ruisseau du Terme was considered as THE borderline (and not the Ruisseau des Réchets)
esfr-map-bm407-410-map-Etat-Major-overall-view-1820-1866
The Bidaubus conflict 1959-1969
A Spanish forestry company trespassed the borderline in 1959 and that led to a chain of events. The French border commissioner Sermet and his Spanish colleague Alija agreed to change the borderline as a sort of diplomatic solution and the CMA complied. The borderline between bm408 and 409 shifted to the North, ceding terrain to Spain. Four submarkers (408 I-IV) were placed in 1969 to delimitate the new borderline but only nr. I and II are still in situ and III & IV were unfindable (until spring 2018). A cadastral map with the new markers was drawn in 1969 but seemed to be lost. And thus it was not known how the new borderline was envisioned and subsequently how much terrain was ceded to Spain.
The French IGN-maps didn’t change at all and the Spanish map was already wrong before 1969 and remained the same. Not that anyone cared, the locals of Fos kept on using the terrain as ever and nowadays they are ignorant of whatever border change, submarkers or conflict.

esfr-map-bm407-409-various-borderlines-on-IGNfr-map-vs02The above map shows the different borderlines on various maps. Bm408 is wrongly indicated on this French IGN-map. Bm408 is located (and has always been) at the red line. Legend:
Black = borderline on the French IGN-map, since long
Yellow = borderline on the Spanish ICC-map, since long
Red = the borderline from bm407 via bm408 to the beginning of the Ruisseau du Terme, according to the Treaty of 1863
Light-blue streams: their courses derived from the very detailed Spanish ICC-map and the google-terrain map.

May 2018: submarkers bm408 III and IV found back
Michel Molia managed to recover the map of 1969 from a Spanish archive and the markers III and IV were discovered on 31 may 2018. See that page for more details. They were roughly placed in the same line as 408 I-II but had slid away and were half buried. The following map shows it all.

esfr-bm408-408d-all-markers-borderlines-streams-2018-vs01-crop

What does this mean? It made it finally clear how the new borderline was finally meant to be in 1969, ceding about 16 hectares to Spain as shows the next map:

esfr-bm408-submarkers-1969-new-borderline-according-to-SermetThe red line is the new borderline of 1969 according to the cadastral map combined with information by Jean Sermet. As said, it was approved by the CMA of 1970 in Madrid.

CMA 2015: a peculiar compromise
Back to 2015. The INSPIRE-project to delimitate the border precisely prompted the CMA of 2015 to decide what to do with the borderline between 407 and 409. As said: the Treaty is – in my opinion – unassailable about its right course but how to deal with the dubious new borderline established in the 1960-ies? And – besides – what was its exact course without knowing the position of the lost markers 408 III and IV? I guess they assumed the new borderline to be as in the above map.

One thing is sure: the French delegation had the best cards with the explicit Treaty-text, the undisputed locations of bm407 and 408 and the evidence of the État-Major-map. They had thus THE chance to restore the border to its original and rightful course. But they agreed to the most simple solution, cutting the disputed terrain in half. Still a loss of ± 8 hectares of French territory compared to the pre-1969 situation. The next map summarizes all my data and reasoning. The purple line is the borderline from 2015 onwards. From bm408 it follows a minor ridge between the two streams until their confluence on the lower part of the hillside.

esfr-bm407-409-all-markers-borderlines-streams-2018-vs01-cropThe purple line is however incompatible with the Treaty-text and ignoring the historical evidence of the bordermarker-locations of bm407 & 408 and the borderline on the l’État-Major map of the 19th century.

The role of the CNIG in the CMA-decision
Pierre Vergez is a high-rank civil servant of the CNIG and in charge of the project to digitally establish the French borders with its neighbors. He was so kind to answer in 2018 on several occasions to Michel Molia and me on this subject, however surprisingly unkind by his militant and derogatory – my appreciation – way of answering. Perhaps he was annoyed by ‘amateurs’ like us, putting in doubt the decision of the CMA of 2015 which he labeled as an “intelligent” diplomatic masterpiece about some “useless square meters”.
He mentions opposing views of the Spanish delegation they had to deal with but what is there to oppose when the odds are completely at your hand? Or was he embarrassed by our documented knowledge concerning the 1863-treaty and the Bidaubus-conflict. While all this knowledge is abundantly available on the internet and assembled and discussed on our websites. I don’t think he did his homework well, neither did the French CMA-members.

What stroke me most: in so strongly defending the CMA-decision, he acted as if he was the chairman of the CMA while not even being a member. At his best, he should have been an impartial consultant to the CMA. But I guess that it was he himself who came up with the “intelligent” idea of following the ridge between the two streams. A convenient technocratic solution fitting a technocratic civil servant from far-away Paris but – as said before – incompatible with the borderline that the authoritative Treaty-text of 1863 prescribes and the historical evidence. I can imagine how the Spanish eagerly complied with this compromise.

But despite my personal irritation, probably reciprocal, we shouldn’t blame him. The French members of the CMA are responsible for agreeing with this compromise and in my opinion, they didn’t perform their job well.

Consequences for the undivided common ground of Bidaubus
There is a large terrain of common ground south of the Ruisseau du Terme, common for the communities of Fos (French) and Bausen (Spain). See this page for more details. If the northern stream of the Ruisseau des Réchets is upgraded to a presumed borderline, considering it as the Ruisseau du Terme meant in the 1863-treaty, the common terrain is inevitably expanded to the North. Let’s show it on a map.
esfr-map-bm407-410-terrain-individis-border-and-crosses-with-expansio-to-north-since-2015

That would imply expansion to the Ruisseau des Réchets (yellow dotted line).
In any case expanded to the new borderline (yellow line) between the two streams. What does that mean in a practical sense? For example, hunters from Bausen will have the full right to enlarge their scope to the North. Same story for collecting mushrooms or cutting wood.

Conclusion
France is about to lose 8 hectares of its territory for no reason, in fact it has already. Is it too late? I don’t know how omnipotent the CMA is in its decisions or in what way local authorities and communities can initiate a reconsideration of this decision.

And who cares? Well, I do! Never thought that I – as a Dutchman – would end up as a defender of French territory….

Corinne & Arthur: swimming to bm602!

Bm602 can’t be reached by foot. This very last bordercross is hidden in a cave at the Mediterranean coast between Portbou and Cerbère. In 2011 we rented a boat with a boatsman to get there and Serge Poncet peddled with a canoe from Cerbère while the mountaineer Lionel Daudet descended along the steep rockwall to the waterlevel. The cave is in fact a tunnel as the following picture shows.

esfr-trip-20110521-photo25

There has been only one man (Cayetano) who reached the cave by swimming as far as I know.  Until now….because Corinne Gourgeonnet and her little son Arthur undertook the same adventure on August 2th 2018. From Portbou they followed the trail along the coast as far as they could and then started swimming.

esfr-map-bm600-602-googleearth-swimming-to-bm602-by-corinne-and-arthur

And that’s not something to consider lightly: it implies swimming 700m to the cave and 700m back. To remind you: Arthur is only 9 years old but – as his mother wrote me – a good swimmer.

gp-esfr602-20180802-with-arthur-photo-by-corinne-gourgeonnet

And the young Arthur may behold the future of our bordermarker-interest. Corinne is since a few years an impassioned searcher of bordermarkers and Arthur joins her regularly and who knows ….

gp-esfr023-024-2018-unnumbered-cross-in-between-with-arthur-photo-by-corinnegourgeonnet

Arthur is his habitat to be perhaps. Picture taken this spring in the Basque country between bm022 and 023.

Oier Gil: artist on the border

On June 2th 2018, I – with my companion Jan-Willem Doomen – met Oier Gil and his girlfriend Judith Sanchez at bm196 near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. We had a very interesting conversation about our mutual border experiences.
oier-gil-meeting-at-bm196Oier (second from left) is an artist and originates from Irun along the Bidasoa-river which is the border with France in the Basque country. He – being so close to the border in various senses – has been intrigued by the concept of the border and its real-life implications. It has resulted in remarkable art-projects -> see his website and/or his videos.

Let’s focus on two projects, both supported by the Bilbaoarte Foundation:

Sauf Desserte Locale, a video in which a sort of bordermarker is driven around (fast motion) in a carrier tricycle through the towns of Irun and Hendaye at each side of the border-river. I liked the marker-design: they should hire an artist whenever a new bordermarker has to be made.
oier-gil-sauf-desserte-locale
Another project was a midnight’s recording on the Île des Faisans, an island shared between France and Spain with a shift of ownership twice a year: at midnight at January 31st and July 31st. That fascinates Oier. If you are on the island at those precious moments, then you are not crossing the border but the border ….. crosses you!

oier-gil-isla-de-los-faisanes-at-midnight-jan31stThis picture (of Oier): the island at midnight at January 31st 2018. The video with Oier’s own ‘Rite de passage’ can be seen on https://vimeo.com/247877249
oier-gil-isla-dlf-crossedby
Access to the island is forbidden but Oier told us that at low tide (especially when full moon) the access from the Spanish side is fairly easy on foot (but still illegal). A bit like when we passed the island on april 1st 2009:
esfr-trip-20090401-photo12with the riverbed being sandy, not muddy.

Marco Noris’ book and his new plan

Marco Noris – an artist from Barcelona – impressed me very much last year with his project of walking along the esfr-border from Andorra to the Mediterranean and making small paintings and drawings of almost every bordermarker. See this post and this webpage for more information on this project and his first exhibition in La Jonquera. I was a bit disappointed by this first exhibition, not giving the exposure and backgrounds he deserved. But in Barcelona there has been a second exhibition at cultural center La Capella with all that I missed -> all paintings and the backgrounds and ‘the making of’ of his project. It has already finished but In a video

marco-noris-vimeovideo-en-frontera-2018

(with English subtitles) he himself tells about his project and what it meant personally for him in an artistic and spiritual way. Very interesting and inspiring.

And he has published a book: A la frontera / En frontera / On the Border

marco-noris-book-a-la-frontera-2018
But how to get a copy if you have missed the exhibition in Barcelona? That’s a problem. Marco wrote to me that the distributor had stopped and there may be a new one. He himself might install a Paypal-facility on his website to do the job himself. For this moment, you might inquire at the art center La Capella where the exhibition was. Their email address is lacapella@bcn.cat.

But there is more to come: “about all border stones from 1 to 426: I want to do the same for this part of the Border, I will write a complete project and I will search for sponsors“. Splendid!

Breaking news: bordermarkers 408 III and IV found by Xabi Molia

Today I was proud – together with Jan-Willem Doomen – to be witness of the discovery of these lost intermediate markers. Michel Molia has been intrigued by the fate of these missing markers (see this page) and visited this remote mountain slope many times.
Four intermediate markers were placed in 1969 after a shift of the borderline. Markers 408 I and II are still there but 408 III and IV were nowhere to find. It was even unknown where they were placed since the official map was unfindable until recently. Michel Molia did a lot of research in the archives and managed to find the map. It was Philippe Barsacq who converted the original land surveyor-data into modern gps-coordinates.

Today Michel returned with his son Xabi and grandson Thomas for the final search. When Jan-Willem and I arrived at the spot, they had already found 408 IV. In fact it was Xabi who found it first (the man in the middle).

IMG_1918While searching the steep hillside towards 408 II, it was again Xabi who found 408 III which has glided downhill, away from the stream.

IMG_1928So it was the Molia-family who has ultimately solved this mystery, all credits for them. Back at the cabane de Hérechet, a celebration with champagne and a picture of “la troupe de Michel”.

IMG_1948

New update GRPdesBF-website

I’m glad to announce a new update of my website.

pic-of-grpdesbf-homepage

 

What’s new (main changes):

– added the 15 daytrips from july/december 2017. Start on this page
– special 1: final (?) search with Charles Darrieu, Michel Molia and Henny Claassen for the 408-submarkers 408 III and IV
– special 2: visiting Marco Noris’ exibition in La Jonquera
– special 3: the addition by Corinne Gourgeonnet of several unnumbered intermediate markers not yet reported in the 001-059 range: start at this page and browse them.
– made entries on the ‘sources-in-person’-page for Corinne Gourgeonnet and Michel Molia

Andorra-bordercircuit: for the tough ones

Jerry Whitmarsh – a Pyrenees-mountainwalker by heart- recently asked me if one could walk around Andorra along its borderline. He did the HRP in 2015 and found that Andorra had “the potential for some interesting walks”. If I could help him? Well let’s try.

To start: there is already a circular walk in Andorra – the GRP – but it remains inside its borderlines:

esfr-map-andorra-bordercircuit-GRP

So I designed a circular borderwalk around Andorra, using existing trails and trying to stick to the borderline. It visits everything you need to visit: both tripoints, bordermarkers 426 and 427, Pas de la Casa with its changing borderline and the pene-enclave Os de Civis.

esfr-map-andorra-bordercircuit-vs01

But it’s a tough trip in a rough landscape: an estimated 10 days of hiking, distance 147km, total elevation of 22910m. Maximum altitude = 2899m, minimum altitude = 829m, average altitude = 2102m (statistics by Google Earth elevation profile).

Have a closer look on a fullscreen interactive map with this link
and/or download the .kml-file or the gpx.file.

Andorra-bordermarkers: much less than thought

The previous post suggested that the official delimitation of the French-Andorran border would lead to the installment and engraving of bordermarkers from the eastern to the western tripoint. I already dreamed of new mountain trips along the ADFR-borderline.

But Jean-Paul Laborie – border commissioner for France – wrote me that those new bordermarkers will only be placed in the Pas de la Case area, in particular between the Col des Isards and the lake of Estany de Font Negra. Let’s show the old borderline (from the tripoint of La Porteille Blanch to Pas de la Casa) on a map from the fifties.
adfr-border-borderline-change-2018-near-Pas-de-la-casa-fifities-mapWhy (new) bordermarkers here? For a good reason because the borderline shifts to the east making Andorra larger. Let’s show it on a recent map:
adfr-border-borderline-change-2018-near-Pas-de-la-casaWhy this change? Because Andorra wanted more access to watersources for the town of Pas-de-la-Casa, e.g. the lake of Estany de Font Negra which is from now on split in half. That implies a loss of terrain and water-access for the French community of Porta which heavily protested. Jean-Paul states that three borderstones will be placed and several crosses engraved between Col des Isards and the lake, their numbering still unknown. He adds that already two unofficial white delimitation-lines have been painted: one on the border bridge giving access to the town-center and one at the roundabout leading to the tunnel d’Envalira.

In 2001, there has been another border change in this area, in that case comprising of an equal exchange of terrain on either side of the borderstream. Andorra was building a tunnel just north of Pas de la Casa (tunnel d’Envalira) and wanted its own terrain on the French side of the border-stream for the building of road and viaduct leading to the tunnel. Blue = Andorran parcels ceded to France. Yellow = French terrrain ceded to Andorra.
adfr-border-borderline-change-2001-near-Pas-de-la-casa-tunnel-related