Category Archives: News 2019

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 (michel.molia@free.fr) 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 www.pierrescreations.fr 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.

A strange discovery: a bm171, found in a garden

Corinne Gourgeonnet is an enthusiastic bordermarker-devotee. She spent some days around new year near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. How great was her surprise that the landlord of her B&B told her that he had a bordermarker in his garden! He had found it at his premises when he bought it. The previous owner was apparently a collector of strange items, found or otherwise acquired. Let’s show Corinne’s pictures of this strange item:

This is definitely an esfr-bordermarker but of a type never seen before. Perhaps it was once made to replace the bm171 at the border-ridge 11km SE.  But there we find a much more massive marker:

Where can you find this marker? The address is
Maison Laia
14 Route d’Ascarat
64220 Uhart-Cize

And this is a map of the premises of the B&B and where the bm is located:

The “right of reply” of Pierre Vergez, with an answer

I have discussed in previous posts the borderline between bm407 and 409 several times and was critical of the new borderline of the CMA 2015. In my opinion, the French delegation had the best cards in every respect but gave in to the Spanish far too easy. Who would care, they might have thought. Well, I do!

The head of CNIG-department, charged with the digitalization of the French border – Pierre Vergez – is a strong defender of this compromise. He asked for a ‘right of reply’ in the way of a Gif-animation. Here it comes:

My comments:

1. the treaty is not speaking of a source but of the “origine du ruisseau du Terme” and “la naissance du ruisseau du Terme”. That does make a difference: every stream has a beginning, it can be a well-defined source (water bubbling from the ground) or a ravine where somewhere the rainfall or melting snow merges enough to form a stream. If that is a permanent or periodical beginning or stream is not relevant in this context, the treaty doesn’t make such a difference. Sources and origins of streams on upper hill slopes tend to be periodical, subject to season and rainfall/snowfall.
2. the bordermarker B.F. 408 is shown at a wrong place.
3. the new borderline (CMA 2015) was a compromise: they cut the disputed terrain in half. From bm408 it follows a ridge between the two streams of the two ‘interpretations’ downhill to a point where the two streams  merge. It no longer bears relevance to the Treaty-text: a direct line from bm407 to a stream with bm408 above its beginning.
4. Pierre Vergez has made his own calculation and brought down the loss of French territory back from 8 hectares to 5 hectares.
5. ‘Scientific proof’? What would that mean? Close reading of the treaty text and plain thinking will do the job.

Do I have a tunnel-vision?

Mr Vergez accused me of a tunnel-vision on the interpretation of the Treaty. I should consider other interpretations and ask myself how the origin of the Ruisseau du Terme could be perceived from another point of view. However, he didn’t tell which interpretation of the Spanish delegation was so convincing that they had no choice than to seek a compromise.
And a tunnel-view? Well, he underestimates me. Of course, I did this mental exercise before. The border-conflict around 1960 (see this webpage) was centered around the same question. Let’s show which other interpretations are possible and discuss them.

The facts to start with

1. The treaty-text (in English)
“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 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.”

2. The historical locations of bm407 and 408, disputed by no one. Though rebuilt in the 1950-ies, their ruined predecessors were still present. That’s how the treaty was implemented in the 19th century and only challenged around 1960. Don’t forget that the rebuilding of the bordermarkers in the 1950-ies was a bilateral project and finished with a mutual declaration of agreement on their locations. In the 1960-conflict, the position of bm408 was nu subject of discussion.

A better map of the situation

We can see on a Google Earth-background the two borderlines on the French and Spanish maps (before 2015) and the various streams which finally come together and merge with the Garonne. We can identify three beginnings or origins or sources of streams. Thus there are three candidates for the origin of the Ruisseau de Terme. Let’s start with spelling the treaty-text and see which candidate fits best.

“(From bm407) the borderline leaves the ridge and heads directly on the northern slope to the origin of a stream, the “Ruisseau du Terme” -> there are three options available

Option 1 can be eliminated easily: the distance is too far (± 675m), there’s no rock nearby for bm408 to stand on and this cannot be fitted in the description of a borderline leaving the ridge and continuing on the northern slope of it.
Option 2: this is where in the 1960-ies bm408-I was placed at the top of a small cascade-like stream. However, it is not a continuous stream downhill, not even with a continuous streambed and one could ask if they are not separate streams. But never mind, we keep this option in competition.
Option 3: no comment, qualifies straight away for round 2

Round 2: two options left

We have two options left which both match with
– a direct line to the origin of a stream
– with a minimal distance (on the ground, measured in Google Earth) of ± 300m because bm408 has to be placed at 312m distance on a rock above it’s beginning.

Final choice

Without the actual and historical location of bm408, both options would make sense. But given the position of bm408, there is only one option reasonable: the direct line heads via bm408 to the origin of the Ruisseau du Terme. Otherwise, the direct line would have been a bent line: from bm407 directly to bm408, bending sharp north to option 2, let’s show that:

And that’s a silly thing to think. It was already in the 1960-conflict a peculiar thought, incompatible with common sense. Plain thinking involves: a direct line is a straight line and bordermarkers are placed on the borderline unless stated otherwise.

But our discussion not yet finished: 2 counter-arguments to deal with

1. could bm408 have been placed outside the borderline but still “on a rock above the beginning of the stream”? In that case, the direct line goes from bm407 straight to option 2 and that would make option 2 the “Ruisseau du Terme” of the Treaty. Does that make sense? Answer: no. Why would they have put bm408 at a distance of 100m south when a suitable position was available at the current position of bm408-I? And why not mention it in the Treaty?
Moreover: the ‘rock’ of bm408 is steep above the hillside SW (towards the Ruisseau du Terme) and S of it but provides a more gentle descent towards the cascade-like stream. Thus, the description of “a rock above” wouldn’t suit if the cascade-like stream was meant to be the origin of the Ruisseau du Terme.
2. could bm408 have been placed (or rebuilt) at a wrong place? Though Jean Sermet tells us that there was a ruined predecessor present at the spot in the 1950-ies, there are nowadays no remains visible. But as said: the project of rebuilding the bordermarkers in the 1950-ies was a bilateral project completed with a mutual declaration of agreement. So both parties complied with the rebullding on this spot. So:  is this presumption plausible? Answer: no.

Conclusion

After examining several options, there can be no reasonable doubt about what is meant in the Treaty. Other options simply do not fit in the treaty-text and the given locations of bm407 and 408. The borderline from bm407 onwards goes in a straight line via bm408 to the ravine where the Ruisseau du Terme has its beginning. On a map:

And I have to repeat my verdict: the French delegation in the CMA 2015 didn’t do their job well. They gave away 5 hectares of French territory in an easy compromise.

Erase my name

Pierre Vergez asked if his name could be erased from my previous posts. I thought about that, my remarks on his role, reasoning and attitude were not too flattering and this is not a personal vendetta. On the other hand: we are talking about public matters – the integrity of the French territory – and he has responded not as a private person on personal matters but as a civil servant to the public. Then you should take responsibility for what you write. He was not pleased: “I am embarrassed that my name is mingled with the empty rhetoric of the internet. Thank you for removing it from your fantasies.” and “I m chocked to see such fake News on internet. I was patient enough to reply to you, but by évidence you aren’t able to be honest enough to write my point of view. I think the best way is to show around your name and internet site as liers.
Well, so be it.