This past Bank-Holiday Monday saw the weird and wonderful calendar of oddball traditions and activities in Britain move to Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire. Though the world media concentrates on sporting events such as Wimbledon, Badminton Horse Trials, Sailing, Formula 1 and The Open what most of us are interested in are much more low-key events spread throughout these few summer months. Whether it be nettle-eating contests, conker championships, worm charming tournaments or a variety of other idiotic pastimes, there is something for everyone in the oddball sporting calendar in Britain. Perhaps one of the highest profile of these is the annual Cheese rolling event in Gloucestershire.
Coopers Hill is a steep hill of about 500 feet (with an approximate 70 degree incline and sees the madcap and ever so slightly suicidal sport of chasing a giant circular cheese down the hill with the person who first grabs the cheese at the bottom of the hill being declared the winner.
As totally bonkers as it may seem, this annual event has been going on now for about 600 years and can see up to 15,000 spectators to witness the event.
The hill is incredibly steep and many competitors roll head over heels repeatedly whilst others run like crazy before going flying, picking themselves back up only to fall over time and again.
Due to the steepness of the hill there are frequent injuries such as dislocated limbs, broken bones and cuts and bruises but so far no-one has ever been killed and the number of people who have had to be carried out to a hospital are remarkably few and far between although in 1993 15 people were injured, 4 of them seriously.
In recent years, authorities have half-halfheartedly tried to clamp down on the sport and for the last few years it has been held unofficially, the deeply ingrained love of the wackiness of the event meaning that locals, spectators and participants aren’t going to let broken necks get in the way of a good time.
This year it has been widely reported that the police have intimidated the 86-year-old cheese maker into stopping providing the cheese in case any injured competitor might try to sue her as an “organiser”. As ridiculous as it seems, the police claim they were only informing Diana Smart of the possibility though it would be imagined that after over 25 years of providing the 3kg (7lb) wheel of Double Gloucester would already have worked things out for herself. As the wheel of cheese can reach speeds in excess of 70 mph, even spectators are at risk of injury if the cheese hits a bumps and changes direction.
There are 4 races held during the afternoon and are categorised into men, women etc and in recent years have attracted people from around the world.
With last years mens winner currently serving in the British Army, this years winner in the form of Kenny Rackers, a US. Army veteran had travelled 4,000 miles from Colorado Springs just to take part in the contest.
“I came over specially for this and I did what I had to do to win,” he said afterwards.
“It feels great, I trained a long time for this and got hurt on the hill practicing. I came three days early and I took a bad spill, but I came to win and that’s what I did.
“I came 3,000 or 4,000 miles just for this race. I put it on my bucket list and today it was to win and that’s what I did.”
Rackers won the opening race. Australian traveller Caleb Stalder claimed the second. Student Lucy Townsend, 16, from Brockworth, won the women’s race for the second consecutive year.
Proudly showing off a graze to her stomach, she added: “I didn’t hurt myself last year. “It is sore. I’m going to have to come back every year.”
Local Ryan Fairley, 23, from Brockworth, won the third men’s race – the first time he has claimed a cheese.
Fairley, a builder, said: “It feels good to have won. I’ve raced about six times but this is my first official win. It was brilliant and I just love the feeling of getting hit hard, love it, and I’ve got the cheese to prove it.”
But Fairley confessed: “I don’t even like cheese to be honest with you – a bit of cheese on toast won’t go amiss. It’s a Brockworth tradition and I’ll do it when I’m 30 years of age, it doesn’t bother me. No-one’s going to stop us doing it, no matter what. I’m a Brockworth lad and I’m winning it and I’m not going to stop now.”
The fourth men’s race was won by Tomoaki Tanaka, 39, from Japan, who dressed as a ninja to race down the hill.
Sometimes the later races are delayed to allow ambulances the chance to return from the nearest local hospital but this year went without a hitch until the last race which was marred by an injury to a competitor who injured his ankle falling over.
In a typically old-fashioned way, the winner gets no prizes other than their injuries and of course the very tasty Double-Gloucester cheese.