So I am out in Cuéllar again at the end of my season of bull-running and what a dark year it has been. Someone was killed just a few days before I went to Pamplona to run – I wrote about it in the preface to the 2015 edition of Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona. Despite 16,000 runners, 42 hospitalisations, and 10 gorings, no one died there at least (no one has since the year I first ran in 2009.) However, while I was running bulls in Tafalla and then down the mountain in Falces four people died on other runs in that single weekend.
Now, after running the bulls in San Sebastián de los Reyes, a suburb of Madrid, I have returned here to Cuéllar, in Old Castille, which has the most ancient bull-runs on Earth (they have a letter from a Pope banning priests from participating dated 1215 A.D.) I first came here in 2012 (which I wrote up for the Financial Times) and have been here every year since and even write a thank you letter to the town in the regional newspaper, El Norte de Castilla.
However, for the first time that I know of, indeed the first time anyone can remember, a 66-year-old man was killed at the beginning of the first of the five annual bull-runs (ending Thursday.) I saw that same bull come up the street to me, its horn worryingly red, and I assisted along with tall the other runners and the heroic pastores, ‘herdsman’, in leading it to the plaza de toros where recortadores will dodge it and saltadores will leap over it. However, no matadores will be involved. This bull will not die today. (Like all cattle, fighting bulls or not, it will end up in the food chain one day.)
I will write more in my forthcoming article on this summer for the Telegraph, but meanwhile I must prepare myself for tomorrow’s run (not least as I am recording it for the BBC.) Obviously, my prayers are with his family, but, as for those who seek to use this as an argument against festivals involving bulls, all of us here know the risks. It is, in no small part, why we are here.
P.S. You can see the inheritors of the Minoan bull-leaping tradition in Crete 4,000 years ago at bloodless work in the plaza de toros in my photo from that night below.