Wednesday, 10 July 2013

San Fermin 2013









San Fermin 2013

Running with 12 angry bulls down narrow streets risking being gored and trampled by other runners would not sound like an ideal 6 day getaway.

To Ongar Rugby Club member’s however this was an adrenaline fuelled trip of a life time that they could just not say no to.

The festival of San Fermin in the city of Pamplona conjures up images of people being smashed into walls and flipped into the air by the bulls.

In fact 15 people have been killed since 1924 and countless others injured every year.

Described by Ernest Hemingway in 1926 as an explosion the festival of San Fermin, Northern Spain certainly has not lost any of its magic with old age.

Ongar rugby club members travelled to the Basque Country to do what many people would consider utter madness.

Club Captain Ben Whateley-Harris along with Ian Springate, Chris Hay, Dan Riley, Jon Browning and Jason Field all came back unscathed but certainly had a few close shaves.

Local newspaper story

You tube video that we briefly appear in

Another video we may potentially appear in




Terror and chaos. Video filmed of inside the arena and all the action


The second encierro 8/7/13
The festival opens with a sangria fight to end all sangria fights, The city is soaked pink and everyone is dancing, singing and celebrates the opening of San Fermin at the town square in a sea of red and white.

The actual run starts early morning in the narrow streets of Pamplona and when the canon sounds the bulls have been released.

You hear them before you can see them as their hooves rattle on the pavement and their cowbells ring out. The crowd surges and you move without your legs taking you anywhere, literally being carried along in the melee.

Then suddenly the bulls are on you. 6 angry bulls charging down.


The crowd surges, splits and bodies go flying into the air. A lone bull breaks off and charges at a man with a look of utter terror in his eyes. He manages to jump the fence at the very last moment before the bull crashes into it.

The bulls are past and you run head down arms pumping to try and reach the arena.

This however is only the start as in the distance in the corral another canon has sounded and 6 more large dark eyed bulls come hurtling down the streets. Some fall and stumble as you run tightly round the aptly named ‘Dead man’s corner’ while others plough deep into the crowd.

Somehow the Ongar rugby boys got past the bulls and headed down into the centre of town as the crowd chanted and screamed.
They ran down the tunnel and the noise rose. As you enter the arena it reaches pandemonium level. The sound reminiscent of a gladiator enter the Coliseum.

The bulls run through the arena tossing the last people who unluckily manage to get in the way before heading out to their pens where each one will fight later on in that arena.

This is when the fun begins. One after another six young angry bulls will be released into the arena. Their sole purpose; to cause as much mayhem as possible.

The locals lay down in front of the arena entrance and the crowd gasps in unison as a bull hurdles the bodies. The bull looks up sees immediately someone running towards it and promptly dispatches them into the air.
This event in the arena is called the amateur bull fight and the people lucky enough to get into the arena before the gates slam shut try and touch the bulls or grab the horns.

Ben Whateley-Harris managed to grab a horn while Dan Riley somehow did a matrix style dodge as the bull charged at him.

Pandemonium ensues and the rest is a blur of cheers, collisions and dodging. The stadium is a mass of colour and all around you everyone is resplendent in white with red neckerchiefs and red sashes.

Suddenly it is all over the bulls are herded out by the stick wielding pastores. Everyone embraces and broad smiles can be seen on all faces around you.

We have all agreed to come back as the adrenaline rush is like no other in the world.

Viva San Fermin.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Almost time

The anticipation its at fever pitch. I am packed and ready to go and cannot wait to get to Pamplona and run with those bulls.



Viva San Fermin and the wonderful festival that erupts and in the words of Hemingway 'explodes' into life in the Basque city.

The greatest event ever hits town and the festival explodes onto the streets, in bars, parks and campsites. Everywhere has a true carnival atmosphere and it almost has a feeling of anything goes as people dive into the crowd from the top of statues and swim in fountains.

This year I have my head camera for the run and am determined to get into the arena again like last year.
My heart pounded and I could hear the blood pulsating in my ears, the adrenaline shot into my system and I have never felt so alive as when we were in the arena in the amateur bull fight and a steer is aiming its horns at you at speed.
Not only had we ran through the streets and not been gorged we were now facing them down.
The feeling is one that I crave and seek out every year and because o that I can say it is the best place on the Earth.

Our seven strong group are off and ready and hopefully will return in one piece to tell our tale.

Hemingway and the Bull run

The craziness of San Fermin

Being chased by a bull

Across the Solent

You arrive in Portsmouth and immediately see the naval traditions all around you.

HMS Warrior stand proudly at the docks, Britain's first iron hulled warship and all the pubs have nautical names.

Streets and buildings have names of battles won at sea in days gone and to see HMS Victory; Nelson's flagship you have to fork out a ridiculous £26. After that we didn't even bother to see how much the Mary Rose would cost to see.

The reason Ii found myself on a bright but windy day down by the ferry terminal was that I was off to the Isle of Wight.

I had never been before and didn't know what to expect really.
HMS Warrior at the historic dockyard

Of course I knew what attractions and historical landmarks were awaiting me upon my crossing but when I thought about it I could not think of a single famous person; historical or otherwise to have come from the island.

Once the car was loaded and the ferry had been piloted out of the Solent and over to Fishbourne dodging Napoleonic sea forts, it was time to explore.

Off the main road the Isle suddenly jumps back in time 50 years. Single file traffic along country lanes where the hedgerows are reclaiming the tarmac greet you.

Speed slows down to 10 miles an hour round corners as you try and avoid hitting a tractor head on or a group of children in brand new backpacks looking lost on their Duke of Edinburgh's expeditions.

Finally we arrived at our destination, the home of a friend and his misses who had moved here for work.

Somehow this small island where the mist rolls in off the sea making the needles impossible to see while we were there didn't suit them. Coming from closer to London it was as though they had stepped back in time when accepting his new job.
It was quite funny to listen to their points of view on the islanders being firmly rooted in the past with opinions, views, morals and the speed that they drive.
It was more amusing to listen as he got progressively more drunk and started to bad mouth the locals.

A quiet moment at Shaklin Chine
So what did we get up to on the Isle of Wight. To be honest we didn't see a lot of it. As I had mentioned before the mist shrouded half the island in secrecy and you could hear the sea but even when on the cliff top you could not see further than a meter in front of you. The wet mist hid all the delights of the coast as we ventured to the west of the island.
On the other hand the mists abated and the sun came out giving us brilliant views over the Solent to the main land where you could see the spinnaker tower shining in the sun down in Portsmouth.

We visited a local garlic farm where I refused point blankly to buy the garlic flavored beer and we also visited a gorge. Or rather as they are called a 'Chine' on the island.
I was rather naughty in the chine. We were wandering up and came to the end of the pathway. There was the upper entrance and an old shed selling tickets. I couldn't resist it but slowly and very quietly slipped the latch on the shed door locking the ticket lady inside. She was unawares and then I ran off giggling.
Of course the chine is busy and soon a tourist would let her out, but it did make me feel ever so naughty!

I think I needed to take it out on something after watching the Lions lose in the dying breaths of the game against Australia. Watching that game had given my heart a workout more on the bad side than good.

Shanklin, Ventnor and Godshill are picture postcard Victorian seaside Britain at its finest. They are truly chocolate box covers of town and no wonder it attracts the tourists from the older generation who stroll or rather amble and shuffle along the promenade showing off their dandiest socks and sandles.

The picturesque villages however cannot hide the unemployment and the reliance on seasonal work. This manifests itself in the number of people hanging around; sipping from lager cans on the street corners. A contrast to the 'visit Britain' poster landscape in front of you.

Bembridge lifeboat station
In the end we didn't see as much as we wanted to. The elements and the mist rolling in from the sea reduced our sightseeing to the East of the island. We did however see Bembridge and the lifeboat station, the fort and the Lord Yarborough monument on top of a hill over looking Portsmouth, the Solent and the English channel beyond.

We left on an early morning ferry feeling that we had not seen all there was and that we had only read the synopsis of a book rather than become lost within its pages.





The Lord Yarborough monument