If you thought Gloucester cheese was for eating, you clearly haven’t been on Cooper’s Hill on the Spring Bank Holiday. In one of the quirkiest festivals of the UK, local residents, and recently, more and more visitors, come to the steep hill to participate in and watch the spectacle that is cheese-rolling. Confused? Here’s the low down:
What is it?
The “Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake” is effectively a race on a hill after a rolling wheel of cheese. It has been happening in the small Cotswold town of Brockworth since at least the 15th century. It origins are not entirely known, but many believe it has pagan origins, and has roots in a fertility ritual to encourage the fruits of the harvest. Nowadays, its symbolism might have got a bit lost, but the spirit of the event is stronger than ever.
How does it work?
All participants begin at the top of the hill, and an MC arrives with a traditional Double Gloucester cheese. The cheese is then released down the hill, given a one second head start, and then racers chase to try and catch up with it. The person who reaches the finish line at the bottom of the hill first wins the cheese.
Why is it so popular?
Chasing a block of cheese down a hill sounds like a rather silly thing to do. But apart from the uniqueness of the tradition, the event has another appeal to it. With such a steep hill, such fierce competition, and such a rapidly flying, dense block of dairy, the event is infamous for its capacity to injure its participants. In fact, in 1998, an amateur cameraman filmed his own accident when a flying piece of cheese hit and knocked him over.
What happens once its over?
First, the winner is presented with the cheese, and then, tradition says that he must re-ascend the hill topless, setting the cheese back on its starting plinth. It’s supposed to symbolize the eternal cycle of man’s creation, but really it’s just the cheese-rolling equivalent of a victory lap. Then, everyone makes their way to nearby pubs The Cross Hands or The Victoria to celebrate, commiserate or generally rehash the ridiculousness of the afternoon.
Is it worth the trip?
Absolutely. You won’t have seen anything like it, and if you stay in our Gloucester hotel, you’ll be just fifteen minutes from the event. But you’ll also be in prime territory for exploring the Cotswolds, which is one of England’s most beautiful areas. Visit cute little towns, like Bibury, or explore some of the special historical sights, like the Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle. As the weather gets better, there’s nothing more enjoyable than a countryside walk, so why not take the family and a picnic, and go for a wander in the Malverns?