For more than two hundred years the small English village of Brockworth in Gloucestershire has played host to the Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake. In this annual event a round of 8-pound Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down the Cooper’s Hill and competitors fling themselves at it, racing down the steep hillside. The idea is to run after the cheese and catch it. However in reality, the cheese can never actually be caught. The roll of cheese always has a brief headstart and soon reaches breakneck speeds. And Cooper’s Hill is steep with a gradient of 50% and near vertical at times, so staying on feet is near impossible. Participants often end up falling and tumbling head-over-heels down the slope. Injuries, sometimes serious, are common.
In 1997, 33 people were treated with injuries ranging from splinters to broken bones, prompting the police to cancel the 1998 event. The event was cancelled again in 2010 due to health and safety concerns creating local and even international uproar from fans of the local tradition. Some loyal competitors organized an unofficial version and thousands of spectators showed up. In the 2013 competition, a foam replica was used instead of an actual cheese to minimize injuries. Once an onlooker was seriously injured when he was hit by the cheese.
The exact origin of the cheese rolling isn't known, but is believed to have started in the early 1800s. Some say the tradition goes as far back as the ancient Romans, who used to have a fort on Cooper's Hill and are credited as the first people to send objects hurtling down its steep slope. The practice is believed to have roots in pagan rituals. It is thought that bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down the hill to represent the birth of the New Year after winter.
The Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling competition typically has five downhill races — four for men, and one for women. Sometimes a safer uphill race is organized for the children. Each race is taken part by 20-40 participants. Traditionally, this game was played by the local villagers, but now people from all over the world take part. The winner of each race take home a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese.
This article has been revised and republished from an earlier article that appeared on Amusing Planet on June 7, 2009.
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