Are you ready to roll? The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, or Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling, is an annual event held on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper’s Hill, near Gloucester in England. It was traditionally held by and for the people who live in the local village of Brockworth, Gloucestershire, but now people from all over the world take part. The Guardian newspaper called it a “world-famous event”, with winners from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal. In 2019, the event takes place on 27 May 2019.
This ceremony originally took place each Whit Monday, the holiday celebrated the day after Pentecost, before it later transferred to the Spring Bank Holiday, a national public holiday in the United Kingdom. Two possible origins have been proposed for the ceremony. The first is said that it evolved from a requirement for maintaining grazing rights on the common. The second proposal is pagan origins for the custom of rolling objects down the hill. It is thought that bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down the hill to represent the birth of the New Year after winter. Connected with this belief is the traditional scattering of buns, biscuits and sweets at the top of the hill by the Master of Ceremonies. This is said to be a fertility rite to encourage the fruits of harvest.
During Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling, a 7–9 pounds (3–4 kilograms) round of Double Gloucester cheese is sent from the top of the hill to roll down, and competitors then start racing down the hill after it. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. The competitors are aiming to catch the cheese; however, it has around a one-second head start and can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour (110 kilometres per hour), enough to knock over and injure a spectator. In the 2013 competition, a foam replica replaced the cheese for reasons of safety. The winner was given the prize of an actual cheese after the competition.
Due to the steepness and uneven surface of Cooper’s Hill, there are usually a number of injuries each year. A first aid service is provided by the local St John Ambulance (Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud Divisions) at the bottom of the hill. Members of the local rugby club and Young Farmers volunteer their services by acting as ‘catchers’ for any participants who lose their balance and also are on hand to carry down any casualties requiring first aid who do not reach the bottom. A number of ambulance vehicles attend the event, since there is invariably at least one and often several injuries requiring hospital treatment. As the event has evolved, an additional on-site professional medical cover is provided by another group of volunteers: ‘Search And Rescue Aid In Disaster’ (SARAID).
Despite the trend of injuries, the event becomes more and more popular each year, with contestants coming from all across the world to compete, or even simply to watch. Until recent years, it was managed in a quasi-official manner by nominated locals, but since 2010 the event has taken place spontaneously without any management.
If you are in Gloucestershire on 27 May, make sure to head to Cooper’s Hill to watch the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling. But do think extra carefully if you want to take part in the competition!