Cheltenham, Gloucestershire ( ForPressRelease ) January 31, 2011 - Everyone loves an eccentric Englishman, and they don’t come any more eccentric than when they decide to spend their May bank holiday risking life and limb at a place called Coopers Hill...chasing a cheese!
Yes, that’s right, a cheese shaped like a small wheel is let loose down one of the steepest slopes in England for people to chase precipitating a race full of adrenaline, thrills and plenty of spills all in the name of...well, fun!
No one is quite sure when the event was first organised, says local resident Jean Jefferies who spent 8 years trying to find out, but it definitely can be traced back to the 1800s and is said to have been part of a pagan ritual to celebrate the coming of summer and fertility, or both.
200 years on and it is has become one of those peculiarly symbolic examples of English eccentricity as people from all around the world converge on Brockworth in Gloucester to take part in the race or simply witness the “stupidity, bravery, and sheer unadulterated fun” of the event (as BBC Radio Gloucester’s Mark Cummings has described it in the foreword to Jean’s book ‘Cheese Rolling in Gloucestershire’). And it’s become so popular now it’s not so much part of folklore as worldlore with TV crews from every corner of the planet descending (or rather ascending) the hill to capture the Monty Pythonesque lunacy of this uniquely English tradition.
As a contest there is not much to it. A group of contestants (from 2-20 who have pre-booked to participate) wait at the top of the 90-meter, massively steep hill (1-1 gradient in some places), the Master of Ceremonies signals the start of the race, the cheese roller bowls the 8lb trophy away down the hill and a second later the competitors are hurtling after it in a bid to catch it and be declared the winner. Hurtle is one of many good words to describe the action – but so is tumble, roll, plummet, spin, and cascade! For it’s not so much a running a race as simply a “who can get to the bottom the quickest in whatever way suits” kind of race. Bearing in mind the rolling cheese can reach speeds of up to 70 mph it is not surprising that competitors travelling at something along those lines come a cropper and sustain broken bones, sprains and even concussion.
But what gives the Cheese Rolling ( http://www.smoothhound.co.uk ) Contest its distinctly unique flavour is not just the oddball nature of the race, but the fact that the cheeses used are still handmade by Diana Smart of Churcham. In fact she is the only person still making Double Gloucester cheeses by hand using traditional methods, and has been doing so since 1988.
On a nostalgic note, it is not only the eccentricity of this English past time that comes to mind when Cheese Rolling is envisaged, but also the die-hard Dunkirk spirit of these isles for during the Second World War years of 1941 through to 1954 rationing forced cheeses to be forsaken and wooden replicas to be used instead...just so the show could go on. However, quaint and oddball as it is, the much-loved and immensely popular Cheese Rolling event has not been without its “nanny state” officialdom problems and was cancelled in 1998 and 2010 by the organisers for safety concerns, and again in 2001 when Foot and Mouth was rife in the area. Nevertheless, the event did proceed last year when the “unofficial” contest was held by volunteers and die-hard Cheese Rolling enthusiasts...and very successfully too with an estimated 500 people attended with no problems being reported. In fact the only injury was the ankle ligament damage suffered by event organiser and life-long Cheese Rolling Racer Chris Anderson (former 6 times winner of the contest, who also happened to win two of the 2010 races, and managed to stay on his feet throughout both!)
So, thanks to the continued success and popularity of the event last year, and the fact that the volunteer-run day was executed magnificently, the official organisers are back on board and now looking to turn the May bank holiday tradition into a 2-day “festival.” No date has been fixed, but there is a possibility it could be held in June instead of May, and involve the sale of tickets. This no doubt will add to the overall excitement and spectacle of the Cheese Rolling Contest and be a huge boost to the local economy for all the many hotels, inns, and B & B’s in the Brockworth, Bentham, Birdlip, Hucclecote, Shurdington, and Cranham areas, as well as the Premier Inns and the larger hotels of Gloucester and Cheltenham in general.
However one chooses to spend the night enjoying the event, all fans of Cheese Rolling will be licking their lips at the very prospect of a 2-day festival and be watching this space...or rather watching Diana Smart as she starts preparing that unique and very round Double Gloucester!