Spring 2006

Wayfinding marks from the French Pyrenees

Painted blobs and stripes mark the way for walkers through the Pyrenees

These arrows, stripes and blobs mark the Pyrenean mountain route between France and Spain in the Pyrénées-Orientales near Céret. This route was used by allied pilots escaping from Vichy and occupied France into neutral Spain during World War II.

The varying colours of the circular blobs, stripes or arrows represent specific trails, with the arrows obviously giving direction. The system depends not only on the prior knowledge of the walker, but also on the mark-maker being sympathetic to the walker’s understanding and reading of the landscape. The spontaneity and randomness of the marks contrasts completely with their English equivalents, which through their ‘dictatorial’ nature somehow reinforce notions of land ownership and even class.

By contrast, walkers in the Pyrenees feel as if they are in the hands of a mildly deranged expressionist rather than a pedantic bureaucrat. These marks offer a Gallic shrug to the notion of rational wayfinding (or Wayshowing, as Per Mollerup’s recent book on the subject is called) and add a frisson of danger and unpredictability to a journey that accords with the dramatic and sometimes violent history of this spectacular landscape.