Gloucestershire cheese rolling festival, would you chase it?

As you may have noticed, people in Britain have recently celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There was a two day public holiday added on to the weekend as well as various events up and down the country. Also, as you might expect, various products attempted to get in on the event and used traditional labeling (from 1952) where applicable or just threw the word Jubilee into their normal sales patter. However, one event rightly moved itself to the first weekend in June to share, in my eyes, equal billing. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to roll some cheese.

For almost 200 years the good people of the village of Bosworth in Gloucestershire have convened at Cooper’s Hill and rolled a large Double Gloucester cheese down a very steep hill…..then a certain few have chased after it over a distance of about 90 meters. This event has gained an international following and, bizarrely, has not been added as an Olympic event for 2012. The rules are simple, when the cheese moves you go, first person to the bottom (the cheese always wins) is declared the winner and wins the cheese. It all sounds like good, simple fun, but it is important to appreciate that Cooper’s Hill is no ordinary prominence. It is about as steep as a hill ever need be (you wouldn’t want to climb it unless absolutely necessary) and it has a gentle and very slight, but painful plateau near the top of the route – so people normally tumble from the top and hit the plateau, then bounce down towards the bottom. Bruises are inevitable, cuts are common, broken bones far from rare. People will attempt to run the hill but maintaining momentum and balance is something that only a few skilled cheese chasers can manage.

gGoucestershire cheese rolling festival contestants rolling down hill

Will De Freitas/Via Flickr

You might be thinking this still sounds like a pretty easy and relaxed tradition – think again. There are men’s and women’s races as well as one for children. Each starting with the contestants clambering up the hill from the finish line. The course gets more churned up as the day goes along, just adding to the fun.

Gloucestershire is a region that also enjoys the fine sport of rugby, so rather than a gentle upward slope to stop momentum at the end, or a padded barrier, instead you find rugby players waiting to tackle you. This is entertainment as the people want it, in fact, maybe a little too much. The hill and surrounding area are not designed for large crowds and in recent times the numbers attempting to watch the carnage have caused problems for organisers. In addition there are the usual health and safety concerns (for spectators, not contestants, if you are fool enough to chase a cheese down a very steep hill into some rugby players then you get what you deserve). To keep the event going sponsorship has been vital but not always enough. Recently, the suggestion that a £20 entrance fee be introduced caused a great deal of anger in the village. However, common sense seems to have prevailed and, for now, this traditional event rolls on (sorry) so blessed be the cheese-rollers.

Would you participate in the Gloucestershire cheese rolling festival?

(Editor’s note: Add Paul on Google+Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)

Topics: Culture, England

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