Today’s post comes from the archives of Paul Dodson, a travel writer who claims to have successfully ordered chicken in over 80 countries and knows the pronunciation of ‘crazy’ in eight different languages.
When you think of cheese, do you visualize a stringy piece of mozzarella stretching from your lips to a freshly baked slice of pizza. Perhaps you picture a big fat block of Stilton, some water crackers and a bottle of your favourite red. Or maybe, just maybe you see yourself rolling headlong down 300 yards of Gloucestershire countryside in pursuit of a seven lb. chunk of Gloucester’s finest. If you find yourself falling into the last category, read on.
Cheese rolling’s origins are hazy to say the least. A common presumption is that the masochistic frolic began as a pagan festival hundreds of years ago – a celebration of the onset of summer. Other theories have it relating to age-old fertility rights, the hope of a successful harvest and even as a safeguard of the Commoner’s rights for the people of Cooper’s Hill.
Wherever it’s origins it’s hard to argue that cheese rolling is a sport for the outrageously courageous or at least the dangerously demented. Contestants in the Cooper’s Hill event (between Gloucester, Stroud and Cheltenham in the Cotswolds) on the last Monday in May, stand precipitously at the top of a 300 yard hill, that maintains a gradient of two in one for the most part whilst a Master of Ceremonies counts them down.
‘One to be ready
Two to be steady
Three to prepare’, at which time an invited guest launches the chunk of cheese on its downward pilgrimage, then
‘Four to be off.’
What follows can only be described as dairy based carnage. Broken bones are a given and sprains and bruises are numerous, as up to twenty contestants in any given race tumble and roll their way headlong down the slope in pursuit of the elusive chunk of Double Gloucester. Keeping your feet is rarely an option, contestants just seem to go with the flow, tumbling out of control like rag dolls with a death wish. Inevitably the cheese wins.
Four races are held on the day, including an event for the ladies. Of the 50 odd contestants – and I do mean odd – 18 injuries were reported from last years event. Not great odds in anyone’s books. And casualties are not limited to contestants. At least one of the estimated 4,000 strong crowd was treated for head injuries after tumbling 30 yards down the course whilst attempting to evade a wayward clump of cheese.
Oh, and the prize for winning, you get to keep the cheese. Food for thought that.