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Byline: Lynne Barrett-Lee

SO, this week, I bring you 'Leaving Pamplona'. It's not published quite yet. Indeed, it's not even written. Though very soon it will be, because it's in almost cinematic detail in my head - how could anybody go there and not feel inspired to write? Where Hemingway leads, I am surely bound to follow. Pamplona grabs you by the heart and won't let go.

For a start, it's located just north west of El Dorado - one of those cities that hides its light not under the proverbial bushel, but in plain sight, on a broad plateau between a quilt of green hills. I say hills but, of course, they are mountains. Part Pyrenees, part Cantabrian, they are the peaks of Navarre, up close and personal to the iconic Basques.

For another, Pamplona, one of the oldest cities in Spain, hosts the infamous 'encierro' - the Running of the Bulls - a key part of the worldfamous San Fermin festival.

For a third, Pamplona is home to the world's third largest bullring. This is real Spain - a whole world away from the Costas. It thrums with bloody history and seethes with Iberian colour.

But these are not, on this occasion, what Pete and I have come here to see. We are here at the end of a seven-day road trip, the main purpose being to bring home half a lorry-load of our ski and boarding kit, which has over-wintered in the alps, along with Georgie. We've since driven in convoy some 1,200 kilometres and Pamplona is a joyful diversion.

We're here to see Terry - my dear friend of yesteryear - who, along with his lovely Spanish wife, Marisol, and his captivating daughter, Isabel, has lived in this Hollywood A-lister of a city for thirteen years.

Terry truly was the BFF of friends back in our youth, so it was always odds-on that it was going to be Quite An Evening. And, as we pintxohopped our way around the bars of Calle de la Estafeta, we were all feeling the love. For the meson pirineo, for the excellent Rosado, for the simple joy of friendship - for each other. And, by increments, as the drink and the conversation flowed, all thoughts of the Bilbao ferry crossing the next morning faded. Which is never a good thing for a must-do engagement to start doing.

And, to quote Hemingway, the sun also rises. 6am came around painfully quickly. But no matter, thought I, in that first flush of milky consciousness. We would rally. We would prevail. We would speed across those green remembered mountains. We would even make the ship with time to spare.

Or would we? One day, I shall introduce you properly to my sat nav. But for now, all you need to know that it's long been my opinion that it was commissioned by some city big-wig in Newport, Gwent. It had to, because whenever I head East on the M4, it commands me, very forcefully, to stop off there. Exit 27, Exit 26, Exit 25 - it never wavers. "Bear left," it keeps parroting. "Bear left."

But I have cause now to revise my opinion. Could it be that it also has roots in Pamplona? Wales and Navarre certainly share a common bond. Both bilingual (in the latter case, both Spanish and Basque are spoken), these are places where road signs are the gift that keeps giving. Well, if you find pleasure in the science of nomenclature, that is.

Definitely not when you are trying to find your way out of a city. Which was something we very definitely had to do. And, when it became apparent that all roads led back to Plaza Principe de Viana, there was, therefore, no simple, sweet, human solution. Just panic.

"Just find a sign for San bloody Sebastian!" I screamed.

"Donostia? Iruna?" tried my Pacharan-pickled passenger.

"Make a U-turn where possible," purred the sat nav.

Ten minutes passed. Twenty. Twenty five. Thirty. Dewy tulip-jewelled roundabouts came and went. And came again. Birds sang. Fountains tinkled. The sun (also) rose. The Plaza de Toros threw deep, mournful shadows.

Blossom-heavy chestnut trees shivered in the chill air.

Pedestrian-free pedestrian traffic lights mocked us at every junction. Somewhere distant, a plangent church bell marked time. But for whom did it toll? It was a full forty minutes before Pamplona finally disgorged us. Dehydrated yet sweating. Bug-eyed and fully spent. Grabbed by the heart. By the ghosts of all those bulls.

Where Hemingway led, we were indeed compelled to follow. I think it's going to be a cracking novel.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 6, 2017
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