Imagine throwing a bowling ball down a steeply pitched hill then chasing after it. Sound ridiculous? Well, swap the bowling ball out with a wheel of cheese and you have The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake.
Held annually at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester, the event was originally just for the people of the local village of Brockworth. Now people come from across the globe to chase the cheese.
Formerly a formal event, since 2010, the cheese-roll has been something of a free-for-all. The event was cancelled in 2010 due to (entirely reasonable) safety concerns. Broken bones and sprained ankles are commonplace as participants hurtle down the slope.
Participants unleash a nine-pound round of Double Gloucester cheese down the hill, and off they go following after it as fast as they can. Inevitably, due to the steepness of the hill, its rugged and often muddy terrain, participants tumble and roll, rarely managing to stay upright.
Check out what the chase looks like.
The cheese itself can reportedly reach speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour. As you saw in the video above, the fromage really gets moving.
Discussing the severity of the slope, the official “Cheese-rolling in Gloucester” website states,
“Pictures, no matter how good, never show the reality of the steepness of the hill! When you stand at the foot of the hill, it towers menacingly above you, you look up and up to the top, you realise you are looking right up at the sky! So steep is it, that the rays of the sun rarely fall on the slope itself! Stand at the top, on the edge of the flat top, and look around you, you can see for many miles to the mountains in the distance, the view on a clear day is wonderful!”
As you might expect, alcohol is the hidden hand moving the event along, The Cross Hands and The Victoria, a pair of pubs, are popular meeting spots for imbibing prior to the event…and after.
Regarding the origins of the event, the genesis of the cheese roll is unclear. However, pagans were famous for rolling objects down hills, such as bundles of burning wood. Breads are scattered along the top of the hill as a celebration of fertility.
“No-one’s going to stop us doing it. They say it’s not official but we are all Brockworth people and we’re running the cheese today so it is official. We strongly believe in it.”— Former winner Helen Thorpe in May 2011.
As for the cheese itself, a seven pound Double Gloucester does the honors. The wheel-shaped cheese is enclosed in wooden casing, which is decorated before the race. Local cheesemaker Diana Smart is tasked with creating the Roll’s piece de resistance.
It should be mentioned that Dina Smart is something of a local hero, as she makes her cheese under threat of arrest. Police warned the then-86-year-old in 2013 that she could be held liable for the injuries sustained during her competition. Presumably, the authorities imagined the cheese careening down the slope and crushing someone.
Reportedly, participants prefer wetter, muddier ground as it’s easier to slide and isn’t as catastrophically painful when you tumble and fall. So pro tip: If you’re looking to participate in the rolling of the cheese, do it when it’s wet.