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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
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.
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).
While searching the steep hillside towards 408 II, it was again Xabi who found 408 III which has glided downhill, away from the stream.
So 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”.
Yesterday was a historical day: a meeting at Cabane de Hérechet of Charles Darrieu and Michel Molia (French) with me (Dutch). We even had an international observer from Belgium: Henny.
(from left to right: Eef, Henny, Charles, MIchel)
Both frenchmen have covered all the existing bordermarkers on the ESFR-borderline and are puzzled – like me – by the fate of the 408-submarkers III and IV. They were installed about 50 years ago on a steeps hillside but are now unfindable. These missing markers are linked with an intriguing story of how a local conflict about tresspassing led to a change of the international borderline (see
Goals of our meeting: meeting each other and of course a last joint effort to find the missing markers. We didn’t find them (as expected) but we sure had a very pleasant and interesting meeting.
Conclusion: without a plan of the actual placement of the submarkers, there’s no clue where to search again after the numerous searches of us three.
There’s a French plan but buried somewhere in some archive but we now have a new link: a Spanish map kept in a Spanish archive.
In the last weeks Michel Molia (from http://michelmolia.pagesperso-orange.fr/) has done a lot to find the missing submarkers 408III and IV. Without result but by doing so he could eliminate possible locations and narrowing down the terrain for future searches.
The submarkers 408-I to IV were placed in the 1960-ies in a change of the borderline to settle a borderdispute. The numbers III and IV are however unfindable. See this page for background-information.
But Michel is not the only one who has searched the area. Charles and Josette Darrieux undertook tough climbs from the Garonne up to the mountainridge and I myself did a couple of trips in the upper part.
Together we have crossed a large part of the area. Let’s put our gps-tracks together and see what’s left. You can check these tracks on a dynamic map.
In red: Michel’s tracks in the last weeks. In yellow some of my trips and in blue the tracks of the Darrieux. The orientation: up = west
Let’s first zoom in to the lower part where two streams (Ruisseau du Terme and la Goute de Réchèt come together for their final part to the Garonne. This could have been a possible spot for bm408-IV but Michel had already concluded that this is very unlikely considering the steepness of the terrain.
Picture of Michel of the confluence of the two streams. They are small streams as you can see.
This is the upper part with possible locations not far from the Cabane de Hérechet where streams (re)appear and merge.
Zoom-in of the middle part. There are two streams: one which originates above the cabane (it draws its water from) and one which starts to the left of the cabane. Michel supposes that this second one could be the continuation of the stream which springs at bm408-I and supposedly goes underground to reappear here. Hij would like to test that with color-marker like Norbert Casteret did to establish the source of the Garonne.
They merge here into the Gout de Hérechet. Might have been a logical place for a submarker. However: no bordermarker around here.
To finish: the upper part. My own theory focusses on this area but as you can see, it has been searched quite thoroughly. It remains a mystery.
I stumbled on a website made by Michel Molia who – with some friends – wants to discover the bordermarkers between France and Spain. He describes wittily in the prologue their interest as an infectious disease and he proposes the name “la bornite”. He himself has become a severe case.
Their homebase is Bayonne and so far they have covered a lot of the 720 bordermarkers – including bm602! – but most of them in the western half. They started in 2013. What strikes me is that they seem to have started from scratch, ignorant of the available information (on the internet). There’s hardly any reference to any sources or using waypoints from others or whatsoever . The website seems in the first place a cheerful account of a friendship’s-project meant for the friends themselves. And I like that, that’s how I started many, many years ago with my own friends along the dutch-belgian border. (see this webpage).