What a crazy race could this be? Rolling or rushing down a steep hill in a contest to grab a pile of cheese must surely be one weird race. Yes, it’s crazy and weird, but a thoroughly enjoyable one at that, bruise, wound or severe injury notwithstanding. Today, Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling is one of the most challenging of adventure attempts which has come a long way from the pagan ritual that it once was.
The setting for the contest is Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester in England with its sylvan settings. The event, though traditionally held by and for the folks of the village of Brockworth, initially saw only the local population taking part in it. Today, the contest draws people from all over the world with visitors from Australia, Canada and even Nepal joining in.
It’s no small wonder that Brockworth folks chose to host this competition, given the British fetish for cheese and the numerous stories, festivals and celebrations associated with this by-product of milk.
The quaint contest starts when around three to four kg of Double Gloucester Cheese, ribbon-packed, is sent rolling down the steep Cooper’s Hill with people running, chasing and falling over each other in their mad rush to hit the finish line and grab the cheese and their prize. Though it surely looks great to onlookers as they cheer and egg on the runners as they roll downhill, it’s one of the most hazardous of fun attempts. With injuries, some of them of a serious nature being reported each year, there has been demand for calling off the festival. But the clamour for continuing the event far outweighs concerns of safety and health and the cheese rolling festival has been garnering world-wide publicity.
The two-centuries-old festival is held in March with much fanfare. Spectators too often get pulled in into the fray and end up sustaining injuries. But all these have not deterred the spirit of the event. However, the 1997 event saw more than 33 people sustaining injuries, some of them serious, prompting the local government and the police department to cancel the 1998 festivities. But the cheese rolling could not be cancelled as the local people refused to bow down to the curbs.
The festival consists of five rounds of downhill races, four for men and one for women. At times kids too are allowed in, but no rolling for them; they can hop down. Twenty to 40 people can take part in one round.
Once very much a local game, it’s now a global event with folks from the world over converging in on Gloucester to roll down Cooper’s Hill to grab a roll of cheese.