Considered as one of the world’s craziest competitions, this annual event involving capturing a downhill rolling cheese wheel has now graduated from a local English event to a global one. The event usually takes place on the Late Spring Bank Holiday Monday at Cooper’s Hill near Brockworth parish of Gloucester (Gloucestershire County) in south-west England (United Kingdom).
Although the origin of the competition – Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll and Wake – is not established, it is believed that it may have started 600 years back; the first written record goes back to 1826. Gloucester is well known for its traditional semi-hard cheese which is being made here since the 16th century. The eponymous cheese is of two varieties – single and double. The cheese is traditionally made from Gloucester cattle (now an endangered breed, with UK-based Rare Breeds Survival Trust listing its conservation as a ‘priority’).
Simply speaking, the competition involves a bunch of participants racing down a steep incline after a cheese wheel. But it is easier said than done.
The nine pound double cheese wheel is released by the master of ceremonies from the top of the incline of Cooper’s Hill at the count of three, giving it a one second head start over the participants who hurl themselves downhill at the call of four. The steep gradient of Cooper Hill makes it a dangerous sport. Many cannot keep their balance and either roll down sideways or tumble head over heels, across a distance of measuring about 200 yards (almost 183 metre); accidents are known to happen. But that has not deterred the participants or the spectators. In fact, the number of participants kept increasing in the years prior to the pandemic, with participants coming from across the globe. Local rugby club players and farmers groups volunteer to catch the players at the bottom, even helping them to get medical assistance.
Over the years, some of the rules have changed. It was even cancelled in 2009 over safety concerns as huge crowd – more than what the hill could accommodate – turned up. But it was renewed the following year. Earlier, whoever caught the cheese was declared the winner. But now the person who crosses the finish line is declared the winner and gets to keep the cheese wheel. According to reports, the real cheese wheel has been replaced with a foam replica since 2013. The winner, however, gets a real cheese roll as the prize. Since 2010, the event is not being organised officially but as a spontaneous event organised by local people, reports said.
According to media reports, this year, the date for this year’s Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling competition (May 30) is likely to be shifted (June 5) owing to the adjustment in the dates of the May Bank Holiday with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.