England is home to more than its fair share of strange traditions, customs, and sports, but few are more primitive, wackier, and muddier than the annual cheese rolling festival. Every year in May, spectators and competitors from all over the globe descend on Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester to hurl themselves down a steep, grassy hill in pursuit of a wheel of cheese.
It sounds like pure lunacy, and it is. Given the extreme peril the contestants put themselves in (concussions and broken limbs are an annual occurrence), you would be forgiven for thinking that the prize for crossing the finish line first is a significant financial windfall, but it isn’t. The victor wins the wheel of Gloucestershire cheese they just risked life and limb to pursue.
The local population has resisted attempts to improve safety at the event. Local government have proposed limiting the number of spectators, selling tickets, and separating spectators from competitors with restrictive barriers. But this goes against the spirit of the event.
The only compromise in the way of safety has been the replacement of a real cheese wheel with a foam wheel to chase down the hill. The rationale behind the substitute was that the falling cheese wheel may hit someone at the bottom and cause injury.
The event is organised by volunteers from the local village, Brockworth. By keeping safety regulations and commercialisation at bay, locals have managed to keep the event as a small, community event; one that has coincidently developed international notoriety.
Cheese rolling reportedly enjoys a strong following in Japan. In 2015, Japanese comedian, 21-year-old Taku Ikeea was the runner-up in the men’s event. Other international winners include Flo Early, a 25-year-old from Berlin who was the female champion in 2016.
Both have some way to go to catch local Brockworth resident, Chris Anderson. The cheese rolling veteran has won 20 races on the 200-yard slope and is tied with Stephen Gyde for the most race wins.
There is no registration for those who wish to compete in either the men’s, women’s, or children’s events. All you have to do is arrive at the top of Cooper’s Hill with plenty of time to get to the start line for the race. Just be prepared for heavy mud, a hit of adrenaline, and potential injury in one of the maddest sports England has to offer.
Featured image from Flikr by Michael Warren.
Image Credit from Flickr by Michael Warren.