Monday 18 December 2017

Grab the bull by the horns and run with them

The running of the bulls is far more than a few minutes of blind terror, says Nora Kielty

'El encierro' or 'The Bull Run'.
'El encierro' or 'The Bull Run'.

Next year at 12.00 noon on 6th July in the city of Pamplona, a fire cracker will announce to thousands of people gathered in Town Hall Square, the start of San Fermines.

This is a traditional Spanish festival that will last all day and all night for nine nights. “Viva La Fiesta, Viva La Noche, Viva San Fermines.”

You will be sprayed with cava and sangria and then the locals will giggle as they pour buckets of water down on you from the balconies above. W

elcome to ‘El Chupinazo’ the opening ceremony for the biggest street party in the world.

Everyone will wear the traditional costume of all white matched with a little red neck scarf and a red sash in honour of San Fermin, the Patron Saint of Pamplona.

He was beheaded in 1318 in Amiens in France, hence the little red neck scarf.

On the morning of 7th of July the holy statue of San Fermin will be carried by locals from the church of San Lorenzo through the narrow streets of the old city of Pamplona. The statue will be followed in strict order by Bishops, Priests, Town Hall officials, Local Big Wigs, Bull fighters, Giant Puppets, Medieval Pipers, Drummers and thousands of people of all ages and social classes who obviously adore their Patron Saint.

Once San Fermin is placed reverently inside the medieval gothic cathedral of Pamplona, you can then dance through the streets all day and all night. The most beautiful firework displays you will ever see in your life will light up the night sky every night for nine nights.

The ritual of the bull will now begin. At 10.00pm every night the bulls will be guided in silence to the corals of Santo Domingo and released again every morning after a short prayer to San Fermin at exactly 8.00am.

This is the infamous running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona which will last about five minutes.

If you want to stare death in the face you can run with the bulls to accompany them on their last journey into the bull ring. If not, you can watch from a balcony or wait in the bull ring and cheer the runners and the bulls as they arrive.

Here in Pamplona the bull is religion and religion is the bull. Hemmingway will describe for you in his novel “Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises” published in 1926, the tension and excitement of the bull ring. These days it is not all about killing the bulls. You can buy tickets for shows that demonstrate the athleticism and agility needed to jump over the bulls or the speed needed to place a ring on the horn of a bull. All of this is done with the supreme confidence and timing of a Russian gymnast and well worth a look. The bull ring is about courage in the face of death and for nine days and nights this festival celebrates God, Man, Life, Death and The Bull.

So next year on the 6th of July, make sure you really celebrate your life and be part of the biggest street party in the world... no bull... just do it.

Pamplona Essentials

To survive San Fermines here are some definite Do’s and Dont’s…

Do wear the traditional white clothes with the little red neck scarf and sash.

Don’t wear any other colours or you will look like a kill joy.

Don’t under any circumstances wear flip flops, the streets are full of broken glass.

Do get to everywhere an hour before it is due to start. People sleep out in the streets to get a spot to watch the bull run. Get up at 5.00am if you want a good spot.

Do bring all your old white clothes or buy cheap white clothes that you can dump as you go. Buy the red neck scarf and sash when you get there.

Do buy a ticket and go to the bull ring for 6.30am to watch “el encierro” arrive into the bull ring from the streets of Pamplona. It is a local tradition to watch the runners play with a young bull in the bull ring.

Don’t do the Bull Run if you are a health and safety freak. It is lethal. The people on the Bull Run can do as much damage to you as the bulls. If you want to do it, talk to the locals who can advise you and join a gym.

Do go to the shows in the bull ring that start at 11.00am. You will see a fantastic demonstration of basic set pieces to jump over the bulls, how to trick the bulls and the speed needed to get away from the bulls without killing them.

Do the “Apartado” tour in the bull ring. This is the draw that will decide which Matador gets which bull. Keep your best white clothes for that day.

Do enjoy eating and drinking on the street. Alcohol is served in plastic glasses and remember food is available 24/7. Most popular are the “Bokatas” or bread rolls filled with ham, cheese or omelette, they cost about €5. The streets do get filthy but the clean up operation is amazing.

Do enjoy the “Pinchos” or the bar food displayed behind the glass counters in all the bars. They are like tapas but nicer.

Essentials - Pamplona’s Expert Guide

Bea Etayo is the go to woman in Pamplona. She speaks perfect English and she can make the perfect tour happen for you. She offers a meet and greet service from the bus station in Pamplona. Bea caters for all budgets. She has great ideas and can help you make the most of your time in Pamplona. Her love of Pamplona and Northern Spain is obvious.

Check her out at


Mobile 00346 344 52 743

Do visit Pamplona even when it is not San Fermines. Out of season -

Do a day tour to the Olite Castle, about 50mins to the south of Pamplona.

Do visit local food societies called Peñas to enjoy an indoor picnic party.

Do the Hemmingway tour.

Do visit San Sebastian home of the Film Festival.

Do visit Northern Spain for the diversity of its people and their traditions.

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