Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival

This world is a crazy place packed with many amusing and bizarre traditions, but it’s the craziness that makes our journey in this world worthwhile, isn’t it?  We have crazy festivals like the La Tomatina, the Boryeong Mud Festival, The Running of the Bulls and many more.

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival is one such insane and amusing festival. This annual racing event is held on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester in England.  However, the event was officially cancelled in 2010 due to health & safety concerns yet the local tradition continues and fans participate. Therefore, unless an official version of the festival is announced, the date for this festival will be 30th May 2016

History

Image Source: Noelle/ Flickr

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival started as a small event in the local village of Brockworth but this fun festival has gained global popularity in the recent times History says that the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival dates back to 1800s, however there is evidence that this festival was an ongoing tradition even in the 1700s, some believe it has roots that trace back to the time of the Romans. In pagan rituals this activity was a part of an event celebrating the onset of spring while some say that the pagans wouldroll bundles of burning brush down a hill to represent the dawn of the New Year. They would also spread buns or cakes across the top of the hill as a fertility rite, in an effort to bring in a good harvest.

Main Event

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

More of a competition than a festival, this wild activity involves running down a295 feet Hill after a wheel of 7-8 lb. of cheese which can speed up to 70miles per hour. This cheese for the race has been prepared by a kind old lady Diane Smart for the past 25 years (expect for the 2013 one where they used a plastic cheese wheel) The slope of Cooper’s hill is so steep that only a handful of participants manage to stay on their feet, the remaining Jacks&Jills come tumbling down one after another, usually with broken bones!

Although very few serious injuries have been reported in the history of the event, this event is not for the delicate darlings as there is a fair chance of dislocating a limb or spraining an ankle or twisting a knee. The race winner is the person who catches hold of the cheese (which can rarely ever happen, thanks to the breakneck speed of the wheel of cheese tumbling down the hill!) or the contender that crosses the finishing line first.

Getting there

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This bizarre sport has lately gained tremendous popularity worldwide. People from around the globe come to this hill either to participate in this unauthorized public event at the Cooper’s Hill race or at least to watch others take part in this ancient tradition. Even though the race starts at 12:00 noon sharp, the spectators start coming in very early so as to grab seats with the best view. The way to the hill from the nearest parking lot is quite a long walk so most choose to walk the small cross-country footpath rather than taking the longer route. However, the footpaths may become jam-packed taking it a while for you to reach the hill. On reaching the site spectators choose their seats and the competitors gather on top of the hill all set to tick off one the most adrenaline-pumping experiences on their bucket lists. After the Master of Ceremony ensures everything is order, the participants receive important last minute instructions and cheese rolling rules from the MC. The winner gets the Double Gloucester cheese.

The Main event & Safety

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Races are done in groups of 15 and split into men’s and women’s races.The minimum age to participate in this race is 18 yrs. For kids, they have an uphill version in which they race up a smaller hill towin a smaller wheel of cheese. For the safety of the contenders and spectators, a team of medics is onsite to treat injuries, also a team of rugby players line the bottom of the hill to catch contestants as they headlong across the finish line.

Hall of Fame

  • Stephen Gyde from Brockworth, who has been competing in this cheese rolling festival since 1978 has an honour of winning 21 cheeses and has set a record for being the only contender to have won all three cheeses in a single year, twice. Can you imagine how fast he is! (And lucky to be alive after playing this insanely dangerous game!). He played his last sprint in 2006.
  • Chris Anderson who has won the cheese for 13 times is now the local celebrity of sorts!

Image Source: michael warren/Flickr

Fun facts

  • In so many years, only 1 master of ceremony has retired, the rest have died in office!
  • The official event was cancelled in 2009 after more than 15,000 spectators turned up to watch this outlandish competition, causing logistical issues in the nearby areas.
  • The Cheese maker can be held responsible in case anyone chasing the cheese gets injured.
  • Each race has a maximum of 15 racers, but in previous years as many as 40 racers participated at once, until St John's Ambulance complained they were short of paramedics to treat everyone
  • After the final race, candy is thrown around in the downhill area for children to scramble.

A pure sense of fun, bravery and the triumph of tradition over authority adds to the thrill of this eccentric game. Who would have ever thought that cheese could be an extreme adventure sport? So daredevils, add this to your bucket list and send us a postcard and some Double Gloucester cheese from Ms Smart’s farm.

* featured image: youtube.com

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