Carlos & Conchita: halfway on their quest

This cheerful couple from Barcelona started in 2016 with searching and photographing esfr-bordermarkers. This is their website.
First, they covered the eastern Pyrenees, east of Andorra. Then they made a crucial decision: let’s try to do all 602 esfr-bordermarkers. They worried a bit about their age (they look 55 but are actually a tiny bit older) and feared the long trips into the high mountains. But why not try? Jacques Koleck started when he was 71 and Michel Molia was 73 and they both completed the whole esfr-border.

Since yesterday you can follow their progress on this website-map:

The red markers are the ones still to be done, the green ones have been covered. You will also find yellow lines (bm’s done walking) and violet lines (done by car).

A few days ago, they reported me that they had found their 301st bordermarker implying they are halfway of the official 602 bordermarkers. 

Congratulations! You are going strong!

To be honest (and they know it): In fact there are more than 602 bordermarkers (double ones, extra ones, intermediate ones: see this page) but this one deserved to be celebrated.

Bordermarker-maintenance: someone has to do the job

On Tuesday 23-6-2020 I did two maintenance jobs near Col de Lizarrieta in the Basque country. I located the exact spot of a presumed lost borderplate and found it back. The second job was dragging the dislocated intermediate marker 44L back to its original spot and dig it in. Why? Because no one else does.

A bit of background: In 1988 twelve intermediate bordermarkers were placed near Col de Lizarrieta: 44A to 44L. On the broad and flat Col itself – between bm044 and bm044A – three plates were placed at ground level with an F and an E on it. Two of the plates still exist but the third one seemed to have disappeared or covered by tarmac.

This is the second plate, the third plate should approximately have been placed underneath the red car.

Of the twelve intermediate markers, the 44L had rolled down the hill and was to be found for many years next to 44J. It seems no one cared…

Fortunately, the treaty of 1988 mentions the exact distances between the plates and the markers. See this page. So the exact locations of the third plate and 45L can be established quite simple with a landsurveyor’s measuring tape.

I arrived very early on the Col to avoid unwanted attention. My toolkit for today:

I started with measuring the exact spot of the third plate:
and start to dig and soon: Bingo!

Then uphill for the second job and measuring the distances from 44K and from 45 to establish the original location of 44L

Then digging a hole

and rolling the 44L uphill

And finally digging in 44L at his original spot.

Jobs finished in two hours, I’m very content. Someone has to do it.

Jean-Paul Laborie again on television

Jean-Paul Laborie is a commissioner of the Pyrenean border committee. As such, he is popular with the media and has appeared several times in newspapers-articles or on television.

His latest appearance on television was part of a news-broadcast (Le 13 heures du samedi 23 mai 2020) on the French TF1-channel. Not as an actual news-item but as a human interest subject on the bordermarkers of the Pyrenees. The video contains a lot of drone-made aerial footage, I like that.

Les-bornes-frontière-de-Napoléon – Le 13 heures du samedi 23 mai 2020_TF1 from Eef Berns on Vimeo.

The video has four parts:
– part 1: Jean-Paul visits Col du Portillon (bm366) and Col de Barèges (bm356 and 358) and gives some explanations

– part 2: a trip (without Jean-Paul) to the old mines of Bentaillou which are said to be close to bm420. In fact they are much closer to bm418/419 which is still a 2-hours walk from the mines. The guide points wrongly to a col (Portillon d’Albe) where there is no bordermarker and to a mountain top (Pic de Serre Haute) with a ‘borne’ visible. But that not a ‘borne frontière’ but a giant cairn.:

(Picture above borrowed from this webpage)

– part 3: two short visits to Llivia and Le Perthus

– part 4: Jean-Paul visits for the first time bm602 which is in a cave at the mediterranean coast. Bm602 is only accessible by boat or by swimming.

My video on the Bidaubus-conflict: how France is about to lose 8 hectares of its territory

I have published in the past several posts on the ‘Bidaubus-conflict’. The last one was

It’s all about a border change on a hillside near Bagnères-de-Luchon, between the bordermarkers 407 and 409. France and Spain have agreed on a compromise in which France is about to lose 8 hectares of its territory. That is surprising because – in my opinion – the treaty is very clear about the right borderline. All the reasoning can be easily summarized in a 4-minutes video. It is in french to cross the language border. It might look a bit amateurish, but it explains well enough the inevitable logic of the treaty.

Bm574bis has disappeared

In the busy bordertown of Le Perthus, there are two very remarkable bordermarkers: 2 pillar-like markers with a coat of arms of both countries. They stand on either side of the main road from Spain to Perpignan. They date from 1764, from the Convention of Perpignan. Later on – in the 19th century – they were incorporated in the Bayonne-treaties and got their numbers in the 1-602 sequence: 574 and 575.

Old postcard showing them together, looking into Spain

With the risen popularity of Le Perthus as a shopping paradise, the road was widened and bm574 was relocated about 50m to the SW. At its original spot, a metal plate (with ‘574’) was put at ground surface. We don’t know when that happened. This is a map of the scene:

The label 574bis is an invention of ours to distinguish both markers. The plate we are talking about is shown on this picture from 2008:

At the far end of the white line is bm574

But Carlos and Conchita Roca (website) couldn’t find it back in July 2019.

Picture of Carlos & Conchita Roca

Has it been stolen? Or damaged and removed? Or just being covered by a splash of tarmac for some unknown reason?

The bordermarker-guide of Michel Molia

At the age of 73 in 2013, Michel Molia – a retired dermatologist from Bayonne – started with his own quest for the bordermarkers of the Pyrenées including starting his own website.
And recently the Pyrénées Magazine published a nice article about him:

I met him several times with as a peak experience our trip to find the long lost intermediate bordermarkers bm408 III and IV. That they were found at last was only possible by his persistent search in the archives for a lost map.

I like him with his endurance, friendliness and wit. Now he has written his own bordermarker-guidebook and I was honored to receive a copy of his privately published book. It describes his trips, gives practical advice and is a pleasure to read. In a way, it is a printed version of the ‘guide’-part of his website. You might email him ( if you are interested in a copy.

He is not the first to make his own account of his bordermarker-quest. I have copies of privately published books by Jean Hirschinger/ Simone Hondelatte and Lucien Thomas. But Michel is the first to cover the entire esfr-border.

A new profession: bordermarkerguide?

I remember well how I was guided in 2009 by Jean Iglesias from Coustouges to the remote and hard to access bm542 (see this page).  I visited since then the area many times. And ten years later, it’s me who performed as a guide. Yesterday, I took Carlos and Conchita Roca (see their website) into the forest and down steep hillsides to the range bm536-542. Especially bm536 and 542 are not easy to reach and in their approach and return demanding. The last one was bm542 along the Rio Major. And that’s where Carlos learnt me how to tackle the last meters to the bordercross by skillfully climbing a rock in between while Conchita gave directions.

 All went well and my ‘clients’ were delighted to have covered this gap in their collection from Andorra to the Mediterranean. And I was content with their cheerful company and their perseverance. At the foot of bm542 a portrait of us three.

The new ADFR-bordermarkers visited

Today I visited the recently installed bordermarkers between Andorra and France, see also the previous post. I checked the gps-readings as provided by the Andorra Cartography Department and they can be downloaded as a gpx or kml.

I was in a splendid company: with Corinne Gourgeonnet, Michel Molia and Jean-Paul Laborie. The last one is a member of the Pyrenean border commission and was highly involved in in the negotiations which led to the new borderline and new bordermarkers. The latest news is that the official inauguration is planned on september 6th.

Jean-Paul guided us along the new bordermarkers, telling about the choices made, his work in general and his relationship with his predecessor Jean Sermet which he admires for his writings and the esteem he had in Spain. Michel had a discussion with him on the decision on the new borderline between bm408 and 409 which he (Jean-Paul) labeled as a political compromise with little chances of reversal (see this post for my opinion on this subject). By and large, we had a very pleasant outing, crowned by a picnic provided by Corinne.


The new bordermarkers between Andorra and France

I have already posted a few articles on the new borderline between France and Andorra near the border town of Pas de la Casa. Reason of all this seems a practical one: the since long desire of Pas de la Casa to gain more control over their water resources. Pas de la Casa depends heavily on the upper Ariège-stream and owning the half of the lake of Estany de les Abelletes would guarantee their access to it.

There has never been an official delimitation of the ADFR-border until 2016 following a digitalization of the borderline. For most of the ADFR-border, there were no disputes: the borderline follows the watershed of a high mountain ridge. However: near Pas de la Casa there was a problem. This article explains that the Andorran maps showed the borderline through the middle of the lake of Estany de les Abelletes (splitting it in half between Andorra and France) while the French maps ceded the lake entirely to France including the half of the upper slope towards Pic Nègre d’Enbalire.  Let’s show that on an older French IGN-map:

The negotiations resulted in a new borderline between Col de Isards and the northern point of the lake which has been materialized in recent months by six bordermarkers: three markers and three crosses. Three questions remain to be answered: where are these new markers and crosses placed,  how do they look and what is the logic of the new borderline. Let’s try to answer them. But first another map showing the old and new borderlines and the location of the new bordermarkers.

Locations of the new bordermarkers

I was happy to receive a list with coordinates of the new bordermarkers from Sara Pijuan, head of the Andorra Cartography Department. This is the list:

The description of landmark 3 proved to be wrong: it is located 125m south of landmark 2

It took some effort to convert them to wgs84-coordinates and on august 25th during our visit I checked the readings myself (download them as a gpx or kml). They are concentrated around the lake of Estany de les Abelletes. I am looking forward to visit them in two weeks on 25 August. Let’s show their locations in detail on a map with the new borderline. I attributed my own numbers to the six markers to keep all six of them in a numerical order.

Question 1: why are they only placed in the lower part of this new borderline? I think I know why: see the last paragraph. Another question: he alternation of markers and crosses seems arbitrary, why not six stone markers? But the best judgment of that aspect will be in the terrain itself. Let’s show more in detail the cluster of cross 1a and markers 2 & 3:

The location of marker 3 proved to be wrong in the list, it is in fact 125m to the south of marker2

Why are stone marker 2 and 3 placed so close to another? And in the sequence of the borderline, they should have been exchanged from a numerical point of view: first 2 and then 3. But perhaps it’s an error in the list of Sara. Update: it was indeed an error, in fact marker 3 is located 125m to the south of marker 2.

How do they look?
We have several news-articles (this one, this one and this one) to get information and see pictures. And don’t forget the tweets of the Àrea de Cartografia-institute of Andorra. But I rely on the pictures of the proud stonecutter Damien Breseghello of who produced the stone markers and engraved the crosses in the field. He shows them on his Facebook-page.

We spot Jean-Paul Laborie (to the right, on his knees), the ‘délégué permanent de la Commission Mixte d’Abornement’. And I think that the lady in this masculine company must be Sara Pijuan.

The ‘crosses’ are engraved like plaques, no real crosses engraved or numbers attributed.

About the course of the new borderline

Apparently, there have been negotiations for years to resolve this problem which only could end in France giving up half of the lake. Let’s have a new look on the map with the three borderlines and look for the logic of the new borderline.

The answer is simple when we study the map: one has tried to attain an equal exchange of terrain. And that makes sense since there is no treaty from the past to rely on, there has never been one. In another bilateral agreement  (France-Spain, near Bagnères-the-Luchon), the existing treaty has been violated by an easy solution by cutting up the disputed terrain in half. But that’s another story.

Thus: from the Col des Isards the borderline follows roughly the trail downhill. Close to the lake, it leaves the trail to bend sharply to curve to the south bank of the lake. The trail is very distinct and probably they found it as such a sufficient demarcation. And they decided to restrict the new markers to the last part when the borderline leaves the trail.

Arthur, the conqueror

On 24 July 2019, I had a delightful meeting with Corinne Gourgeonnet and her son Arthur. I know Corinne since 2 years and she has impressed me with her enthusiasm in searching the esfr-bordermarkers, making new discoveries and deliberately abstaining from the help of a gps.

But we never met before until today when the four of us – Corinne, her son Arthur, Jan-Willem Doomen and me – traveled to the foothills of Pic d’Orhy to do a bordermarker-trip together. We covered bm232 to 234bis which meant descending into the forest to hidden borderstreams. The young Arthur (10 years old, already famous for his swimming-trip to bm602), liked to take the lead in the approach of the bordermarkers. With the gps in his hand, he guided us towards them. On the picture above, we see him with his mother at bm234.

And on this picture, the three men proudly smiling.