X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Features

A good run

Why I risk my life among the bulls of Pamplona

14 July 2012

6:00 AM

14 July 2012

6:00 AM

I have just finished running — with a thousand like-minded souls from around the world — down a half-mile of medieval city streets while being pursued by a half-dozen half-ton wild Spanish fighting bulls. They were accompanied by an equal number of three-quarter-ton galloping oxen, but we didn’t worry about them: they know the course as well as anyone and keep the bulls in a herd. This is good, because when fighting bulls are on their own they become the beast of solitary splendour and ferocity you may see in bullrings across Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico and much of Latin America. However, every second week in July, during the festival of Saint Fermín, they are run together as a herd from the corrals to the bullring.

Fermín was a 3rd century ad bishop, martyr and patron saint of this city whose feast day of 7 July has been celebrated here since the 12th century, with the addition of bullfighting since the 14th and bull-running since the early 17th. It was not until Ernest Hemingway turned up in the 1920s and told the story of this ‘bull-feast’ — first in dispatches for the Toronto Star and then in his first novel Fiesta — that the English-speaking world came to hear about it.

Returning to this morning’s bulls: they were an interesting bunch, coming all at once in a clumped herd, scything through the Australian backpackers, the clueless American jocks fresh out of college and the drunken stag party from Chester. In amongst all of these young braves (who quickly and sensibly fled to one side or the other) were a hard core of Spanish and Basque runners, and with them an even smaller number of American and British ones.

Some of us looked at the animals, saw no safe opportunity and joined the first-timers lining the walls. Others, meanwhile, took their chances leaping out into the middle of the street to run in among the herd, avoiding horn points, matching foot to hoof at a gallop and trying to find the magical space just in front of a bull. I found just such a space last year, between two bulls: one clearing my path, the other chivvying me along with his horns — part of the wild hunt. My run was not as good as that today — I was out too far in front. I couldn’t see how both to approach and survive.

[Alt-Text]


Why try at all? Well, it may sound like playing to the gallery to talk about the horrors of health-and-safety legislation in the pages of The Spectator, but it’s surely clear to anyone who stops to think that if people are going to be expected to behave like adults, they must be treated as such, and take responsibility for their own lives — even risk them. Which is why I and a brotherhood of friends gather in honour of a saint I don’t believe in and put our lives on the line to pay homage to a set of ideals and a city I passionately do.

Here during the time of Fiesta in Pamplona I see drunkenness but not violence, boldness but not discourtesy and rowdiness but not anarchy (at least as long as Basque and Navarran politics stay out of the mix, as they notably failed to in 1978 and 1997). It is a truism that the crowds at rugby matches are better-mannered than those at football games, but they are twice as polite here in Pamplona. Any insecurities the crowd have are put into perspective as they risk their lives on the streets, often spared only by fate or chance, or — for my Catholic friends — the intervention of Saint Fermín.

I derive what religiosity that I do from running with the bulls themselves; from losing myself among them. After all, men have done this for millennia. Pamplona is less than two hours’ drive from the caves of Altamira, where the oldest art made by early humans (and Neanderthals) depicts men running with 40,000-year-old bulls. These bulls are the aurochs, the giant curving-horned beasts from which modern cattle descend — all 1.3 billion of them, destined to become burgers and shoes.

At least the bulls here, bred to fight in the ring, will have the dignity of taking a shot at their killers — not a fair one, but a shot nonetheless.

This morning I shook the hand of Joe Distler, as I have done on each of the ten mornings I have run, and we wished each other luck. Joe is a retired English lecturer from New York and he has run the bulls more than 300 times in more than 40 years of coming to Pamplona. He’s been trampled, gored, tossed and run over. Today, before we ran, I asked him why he keeps coming back. Here is his answer: ‘Have you heard of Karl Wallenda? He was a great high-wire walker, and when asked why he still dared fate after being seriously hurt he calmly replied, “Walking the wire is life, everything else is just waiting around.” That’s why I run.’

Into the Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight is published by Profile Books.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close