01 Jun 2016
Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling 2016
“Race Report” for one of Britain’s most bizarre traditions.
I first heard of the annual Cooper’s Hill cheese rolling event many years ago. It looked like “gouda” fun and I wanted to give it a bash. People thought I was “crackers” and that it would end in a “pickle”, but I just thought “edam” it, why not?!
The annual cheese rolling takes place on Cooper’s Hill, Brockworth, Gloucestershire. It’s a very steep hill on which a 9lb wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down, chased by a barrage mentally unstable people. The first one to the bottom wins the cheese.
It was described as “twenty young men chasing a cheese off a cliff and tumbling 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital.”, which is actually a fairly accurate description.
The first cheese is rolled at midday, but we had to get there a few hours early as the hill is soon overrun by hundreds of people hoping to compete and thousands of spectators who would “Camembert” witness to the event. Only 100 people actually get to chase the cheese in this “legen-dairy” event, in four 25 person waves (75 men, 25 women).
The event is free, so it doesn’t matter if you’re low on “Cheddar”
Upon seeing the hill, the first thing I noticed is that it is incredibly steep, but that’s not the main danger. The main safety concern is that the hill is an incredibly uneven surface of ruts, potholes, divots, nettles and de-“Brie”.
Some competitors threw caution to the wind and launched themselves down the hill. Other descended more “Caerphilly”.
I had my life mascot Donkey strapped to my chest, which probably made me look like “Emmental” person, but did attract the attention of one of the many TV stations that were covering the event. They conducted an interview with me at the top of the hill. “So, who are you?” they asked. “Well” I said, “Halloumi to introduce myself!”
People had travelled from all over the world to spectate and take part, many of them were drinking and the event “organisers” were drinking even “Morbier” than the participants.
Whilst I was waiting for my opportunity to take part, one of the “organisers” told a story about a friend of his who took part last year and had to spend six months in a wheel chair, I thought “Cheese-us Christ, why did you ‘Teleme’ that?!”, but I didn’t let this “Feta” my desire to have a go myself.
I was “Wedged” in with a ton of other people at the top of the hill but I managed to secure a place in the last roll of the day.
There was tension in the “Gruyere” as we prepared to run. Several people were wearing football boots, which was probably a good idea because as soon as we set off my feet just slipped away from beneath me and I went bouncing down the hill on my backside. On a few occasions I managed to find my legs momentarily before falling into a roll.
I was about three quarters of the way down when I stumbled and when spiralling down, head first.
As I tumbled, all I saw was a blur of limbs, grass and sky. I even thought I saw a man trying to hide a small horse, although I don’t know why he wanted to “Mascarpone”.
I landed square on my face. Next I saw my legs come over the top of my head so that I was looking up at my feet. This coincided with a very concerning crunching sound in my back. I lost my hearing and as I came to a stop in a crumpled mess at the bottom of the hill, all I could hear was a high pitched tone.
I had not won, but at least I was uninjured I thought as I was lifted to my feet. Then the adrenaline wore off and I realised that, actually, I had a number of cuts, a pulled muscle in my back, a sore neck,bruised coccyx and a broken rib!!.
I came so “Paneer” yet so far, but at least I gave it my all. I was in a lot of pain, but I felt “grate”.
After the four cheese rolls, there was “Stiltons” of people who wanted a go, so they let them run down the hill even though there was no cheese on offer.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling is Dangerous.
Cheese puns aside, I feel obliged to warn people about the potential risks of this event. Injury is not just possible, but probable and several people had to be taken to hospital. Despite this, the actual act of chasing the cheese is not where the real danger lies.
Only three waves of 25 men get to chase the cheese, but there are hundreds more who want to. When I was up on the hill I was at the front (the area where you wait is just as steep as the rest of the hill), people desperate to get a place began to push forward and I found myself in a Hillsborough-esque situation. The fence that I was being pushed against was very weak (it had already fallen over a couple of times) and we came very close to having 200 people fall down the hill in a massive clump.
The cheese rolling is not an official event. There is very little organisation and no safety measures are in place. People will inevitably be injured whilst actually participating, but that’s nothing compared to the risk of the situation that nearly occurred at the top of the hill.
There are also thousands of spectators on the sides of this very steep hill too. All it would take is for one rotund Jamaican woman to lose her footing and you’d have a Temple of Doom situation going on.
The Gloucestershire cheese rolling is a quirky and quintessentially British tradition that I was glad to be able to take part in, but I believe that without any official organisation, sooner or later a disaster will occur.
Here’s the “official” website (WARNING: COMIC SANS)