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The Traveller's Magazine
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Why throw yourself down a grassy hill in pursuit of a cheese wheel? It’s tradition. And the Brits love tradition (as much as David Bowie). This weekend saw the great annual “Cheese Rolling and Wake” in Gloucestershire where thousands gathered to cheese-roll.

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Cheese rolling: Britain’s oldest tradition?

May Bank Holiday sees thousands heading to the beach, exotic destinations abroad… and to Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth (yes, the middle of so-called “nowhere,” unless you’re a serious cheese fan with a daredevil of a spirit). Cheese rolling is a tradition the Brits are not about to give up anytime soon!

It’s one of the oldest customs in the country and originally involved an 3.5 kilo wheel of Double Gloucester cheese hurtling down the famous Cooper’s Hill with the town’s most brave (and possibly stupid) in hot pursuit of it.

While bumps, bruises, broken bones and sprained ankles are quite normal as people leap, hurtle and roll down the 200-metre hill, each year brings record turn-outs with an estimated 5,000 in attendance this year.

England’s annual unofficial cheese rolling competition took place without a hitch this week although some locals were pretty upset to see an American dressed in a stars-and-stripes spandex onesie win the first men’s race. An Aussie won the second race while a Japanese man dressed as a ninja won the third. Their prize? Their respective cheese of course.

Here’s a closer look at 2012’s race…

History lesson

Cheese Rolling has always taken place on Whit Monday, which later turned into May’s Bank Holiday. Some sources say the act has pagan roots, when burning brushwood was rolled down the hill to celebrate the birth of a new year after winter. The cheese wheel was introduced sometime in the 15th century and has stuck ever since with the local townsmen, women and children competing for it in their various races.

cheese-roll1

The Double Gloucester cheese used in the races typically weighs up to 4kg and is protected by a wooden casing around the sides and decorated with ribbons. The cheese has been produced by local cheese-maker (now 86 years old!) Diana Smart since 1988. During the Second World War there was severe rationing going on but Britain didn’t let a World War get in the way of their cheese roll! From 1941-1954 a wooden “cheese” was used with a small piece of cheese tucked inside the hollow centre.

One reporter from the Sydney Herald once described the event as,

“…twenty young men chase a cheese off a cliff and tumble 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital.”

Sounds like fun if you ask us! Today people come from all over the world on holidays in England to compete for the legendary Gloucester cheese.

Consider it Britain’s version of Running with the Bulls! Would you do it?

For more info on the event, check out cheese-rolling.co.uk.

Img: mike warren, reway2007 / Flickr cc.

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