Pamplona bull run: Author of 'How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona' guide gets gored

Jonathan Brown explains how he survived at the controversial Spanish event

Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about taking risks. War correspondent, big game hunter, boozer, traveller – he was the very embodiment of the 20th-century adventurer.

But when it came to the annual bull run at Pamplona in Spain – an event he immortalised in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises – the author realised this was one experience it was better to observe and write about rather than participate in.

In the annual contest between man and beast this year it has been beast that has snatched the headlines.

The daily statement from the Complejo Hospitalario de Navarra revealed today that eight runners remained in hospital where they were recovering from serious injuries after taking part.

A further two had been kept in for observation– an American and a Scot, both in their late 40s – who were among seven people injured as they fled through the wet cobbled streets in the fifth daily running of the bulls at Spain’s week-long San Fermin festival.


They are reported to have suffered head wounds and are currently under observation. But it is the goring earlier this week of “Buffalo” Bill Hillman that has shone a new light on the dangers of participation in the encierro – the terrifying 850-metre dash which draws hundreds of thousands of Hemingway devotees, thrill-seekers and daredevils to the Basque city each summer.


The irony, not lost on observers and critics of the event, is that Hillman is the co-author of Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, which claims to provide tips to those wishing to emerge unscathed from their encounter with more than six tonnes of charging beef flesh.

The American was gored through the leg after falling during the chase. The bull’s horn missed his artery and he is expected to make a full recovery after undergoing surgery.

His friend and co-author Alexander Fiske-Harrison described how he too was forced to dive for safety to avoid being gored – a course of action he described as “ignominious, bruising but safe”.

Bill Hillman, the co-author of a book on surviving the bull run, in hospital after being gored (EPA)

“It was that same bull which found my brother-in-arms Bill a few metres further down the street. It was a bloody day out there – another man in a far worse condition than Bill was gored in the chest,” he added.

Fifteen people have died taking part in the run since record-keeping began in 1924, the most recent in 2009. It was not the prospect of possible death that drew me to Spain in 1988 when, clutching a tattered second-hand copy of Hemingway’s book, I took my chances against the rampaging herd, albeit cautiously.

Although the event seems to have been made even more treacherous by the advent of the smartphone selfie-taking during the sprint, it is not the plight of humans which evokes the anger of campaigners.

Bill Hillman is the co-author of this book

Rather, it is that of the bulls which elicits much of the world’s sympathy, as all 48 are put to death in the ring during the course of the festival.

This year, more than 100 activists protested in the central square in a demonstration organised by international animal rights activists dressed in the traditional running garb of red bandana, cummerbund and white suit but with their faces made up like the grim reaper. The pop star Morrissey was among those to denounce the spectacle as “systematic torture”. 

Recovering yesterday was Tom Hadfield, a 23-year-old record company manager from Nottingham who is expecting to stay in hospital for a further two weeks after being trampled.

“I did it last year and it was the best feeling in the world. This year I guess I just pushed my luck. I have four broken ribs, two of which have punctured my right lung. I feel like hell but glad to be alive. I probably won’t take part again next year,” he said.