Jonathan Brown: How I took on Pamplona's raging bulls – and lived to tell the tale

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I would never claim that I was the bravest or most daring runner on the day I took to the Cuesta de Santo Domingo to try my luck against the huge beasts whose charge has turned the capital of Navarre into a magnet for international thrillseekers each summer. Nor, as the years have passed, do I feel necessarily proud that I took part in what culminates in the ritualised slaughter of fine animals in the name of entertainment.

But like so many others, what drew me there was a love affair with Ernest Hemingway, whose novel Fiesta is set against the impassioned backdrop of the annual San Fermin festival.

Living out the life of my hero, I had spent the previous evening carousing between bars in an appropriately Hemingwayesque fashion, before sleeping rough.

Though it is now more than 20 years ago, I can still vividly recall my astonishment the next morning at the white-suited runners as I watched them vie for the closest, most perilous position under the bulls' horns.

An instinct for self preservation meant I preferred more of a trot than a run, and was certainly well ahead of the pack – some might say I was never in contention.

But despite my relative safety, the adrenaline was still coursing, for those six bulls were not to be messed with. The route itself is just over 825 metres, careering through narrow, medieval streets which can – and do – cause damage to both animal and runner alike.

The finishing post comes at the Plaza de Toros where a gathered crowd roars in delight at the final crazy souls springing into the arena just yards ahead of the bulls.

It was certainly an experience I will never forget – though rather like reading Hemingway, it is not something I plan to do again.