Cheese Rolling | A Guide To England’s Strangest Sport

An introductory guide to the legendary sport of cheese rolling

Cheese rolling – it sounds crackers, doesn’t it? It sounds, quite frankly, too silly to be real. And yet, the annual Gloucester cheese roll takes place every spring bank holiday on Coopers Hill in the dainty village of Brockworth. Here, brave competitors willingly launch themselves down an incredibly steep slope every year in hot pursuit of a wheel of cheese.

This isn’t a sport for the mild; it’s one for the mature. Here’s what you need to know about it.

What is Cheese Rolling?

Cheese rolling starts with a nine pound of Double Gloucester cheese that’s rolled from the colossal slope of Coopers Hill (with its devilish 45-degree angle). The mob of participants will then chase the cheese to the very bottom, with the winner being the first to cross the finish line. Their prize for winning? The very cheese they’ve been chasing.

At previous events, competitors were expected to catch the cheese. However, this dairy product can reach speeds of up to 80mph, making it extremely difficult to get a good grasp on it. It also poses a danger to spectators, as it has gone off track in the past and injured bystanders. Death by cheese isn’t the way to go. Nobody wants a trip to ‘A and brie’.

Fact – In the 1997 race, 33 people were hospitalised with injuries ranging from broken necks to concussions.

Where Does It Take Place?

As mentioned already, this spectacle takes place on Coopers Hill in the charming Gloucestershire village of Brockworth; on the edge of the Cotswolds.

Once a year, people hurl themselves down this hill in pursuit of glory (and cheese). Those who take part are usually locals from the surrounding area. However, people do travel from all corners of the globe just to be part of this English tradition.

Fact – Previous winners of the event have come from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Nepal.

What Are The Rules Of The Cheese Roll?

Proceedings are all rolled off by the master of ceremonies – Stuart Langworthy – who has been involved with the event for decades. Once everyone is at the top, he shouts: ‘One to be ready, two to be steady, three to prepare (at which point the cheese is released), and four to be off.’

The cheese roll event has four official downhill races, three for the men and one for the women with an official maximum of 14 racers per race. However, this rule is pretty lax as anyone brave enough to reach the top of Coppers Hill usually ends up giving it a go.

The first person to cross the finish line is declared the winner and is presented with the coveted Double Gloucester cheese wheel. If they’re lucky and haven’t broken any bones in their arms, it’s somewhat of a tradition to raise it high into the sky above your head in celebration.

Fact – Smart Farms have made the cheese for the event since 1988.

Who To Watch Out For?

It’s impossible to speak about the cheese roll without mentioning the name Chris Anderson. This cheese-chasing record breaker has won 22 cheeses in his time as a top cheese roller. In Anderson’s opinion, cheese rolling “is one of the few past times we have left in Britain.”

Likewise, you also can’t mention the sport without talking about Flo Early, who in 2019 picked up a record breaking fourth cheese in the ladies race.

If you want to ever have a chance of winning your very own Gloucester cheese roll, then you will need to be just as good as these two – if not better.

Fact – In 2004 the event was won by former New Zealand international rugby player Marc Ellis.


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What Kind of Injuries Do People Get?

Coopers Hill is one incredibly steep place and this event usually results in a high number of injuries; everything from broken legs and arms to sprained ankles and missing teeth. The cheese roll takes no prisoners, and once you accept the challenge, you’re automatically putting your body on the line.

After winning that fourth cheese in 2019, Flo Early sprained her ankle badly and retired in a post-cheese roll interview.

Fact – In 2010, the event was cancelled due to safety concerns.

What’s The History of The Cheese Roll?

How does a sport like this come to fruition? Local Gloucestershire historians have plenty of their own theories of how it was created. But, it’s widely believed to have been about, in some form or other, since the 15th century. The event used to take place every Whit Monday, but it was later moved to the Spring Bank Holiday.

Two possible origins have been attributed to the creation of this English tradition. The first being that it evolved from maintaining grazing rights on the common. The other is that it derived from pagan origins, in which bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down the hill as it acted as a symbol for the birth of the New Year after winter.

Fact – The first piece of transcribed evidence of cheese rolling was found from a letter written to the Gloucester town crier in 1826.

How Can You Get Involved?

All you need to do is get yourself to the top of Coopers Hill and tell race organisers you wish to take part. From this point, fate will decide if you end up in a hospital or the history books.

Be warned, this is not for babies and especially not for Babybels. This is one of the most daring, and dairy, sporting events in the whole of the UK.


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