English village prepares for annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling race

English village prepares for annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling race

 

    The small village of Brockworth, England, is bracing for an influx of visitors celebrating the return of an unusual — and infamously dangerous — tradition: the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling race.

 

The annual event, which returns Sunday after the 2020 and 2021 cheese chases were canceled due to the COVID-19pandemic, features multiple rounds of races where the participants chase a 9-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese a distance of about 625 feet down Brockworth’s famously steep Cooper’s Hill.

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The winner is either the first person to catch the cheese or, more frequently, the first reach the finish line after the wheel, which has been known to reach speeds of up to 70 mph. The winner gets to take home the wheel of cheese.

The event is normally held on the United Kingdom’s Spring Bank Holiday, but the 2022 event was moved to Sunday as a result of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

History

The first printed reference to the cheese rolling race was in a message to the Gloucester Town Crier in 1826, but locals claim they can trace the event back to at least the mid-1700s — and the tradition is locally believed to be even older, with some suggesting it was started by the ancient Romans, who had a fort on Cooper’s Hill.

Local legends hold the origins of the cheese rolling could be tied to maintaining grazing rights or a pagan fertility rite.

The Cooper’s Hill Wake — “wake” being a local word for festival — formerly featured cheese rolling alongside other events including wrestling matches and shin-kicking competitions. The modern Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake featured only cheese rolling and an uphill race for children to win sweets.

The event was traditionally held on Whit Monday, the day after the Christian Pentacost, but was later moved to the Spring Bank Holiday.

Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake was an officially-sanctioned event until 2010, when the growing popularity of the event due to videos shared on the Internet caused officials to raise concerns about the safety of spectators and the ability of paramedics to reach any injured racers.

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling races since 2010 have been put on by a group of local volunteers, without official involvement. The 2013 race was run with a fake wheel of cheese, after local cheese maker Diana Smart, who had long provided the double Gloucester for the race, was told she could be liable for injuries. Real cheese returned the following year.

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