Cheese Rolling on Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire

By Ferne Arfin, updated 10 June 2020

England’s Most Bizarre Daredevil Event – Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling

Spain may have the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but in England the event of the year for daredevils from near and far is the bizarre May Bank Holiday Cheese Roll on Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire.

Once a year, as they have done for hundreds of years, young men and women hurl themselves down a hill – so steep that it is impossible to remain standing – in pursuit of a six to nine pound wheel of locally made Double Gloucester cheese.

No one knows exactly when the tradition of people throwing themselves down Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth, south east of Gloucester, began but it was already a well-established Whitsun event in the early 1800s. It’s now a regular feature of the end of May Bank Holiday

There are men’s and women’s downhill races and an uphill race for children, six races in all. What started out as a local event has become a global phenomenon with able-bodied cheese-rolling racers coming from all over Europe, the USA, Japan and even Australia, New Zealand and Nepal.  Thousands more arrive to watch and cheer.

Rescue teams at the ready

In case you don’t think this insane race is daredevil enough, consider this. A few year’s back the St. John Ambulancemen, a volunteer first aid brigade, declared they couldn’t scale the hill to rescue injured participants and a local cave rescue team now stands by with the first aiders. Most of the injuries are cuts, scrapes and sprains but the occasional broken bone is not unheard of among participants who bounce, tumble, roll and slide down Cooper’s Hill, chasing the cheese.

There is no way participants can come down Cooper’s Hill on their feet. The hill averages a 1 to 3 slope but in places it is 1 to 2 and even 1 to 1. Spectators who get too close to the edge have been known to tumble over and join the race involuntarily. And the guest roller, who sits on the edge of the hill to send the cheese rolling, has to be helped into place by a master of ceremonies.

The great event didn’t take place in 2020 because of COVID-19 but you can still get a vicarious thrill by checking out this BBC video .  And, for a fictional account that gives you a hair-raising perspective on the real view from the top, watch “Let’s Roll”, below. The award-winning short by filmmaker Chris Thomas picked up the audience award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020. If Coopers Hill were snow-covered, it would definitely be a black run.

LET’S ROLL from Chris Thomas on Vimeo.

Most people slide but racers have been known to do cartwheels and bounce through the air. Pursuit of the cheese regularly results in scrapes, abrasions, cuts, bruises and the occasional broken bone. To minimize injuries, volunteers spend two weekends clearing the hill of scrub and stinging nettles. Safety fences are erected along the sides of the hill to prevent the tumbling participants from crashing into trees. At the bottom of the hill, members of the local Rugby team serve as catchers to prevent participants from crashing into the barriers.

Entrants for the down hill races have to be at least 18 years old but children under 12 can participate in the uphill races. After the races are finished, sweets are scattered on the face of the hill for a kids scramble.

And, in the end, the winner takes the cheese.

Is it really a cheese?

During rationing, a wooden wheel replaced the cheese rolling down the hill – but a small piece of cheese was always placed in the center of it, to keep up the tradition. In those days, the prize was a 50 pence piece.

And in 2013, the police and local authorities – who are always trying to discourage this extreme sport event – warned the local cheese supplier that she could be held liable for any injuries. That year, the cheese was replaced by a foam replica.  But the following year, a real wheel of cheese returned to the fray and it has been so every year since. It’s a real 6 to 9 pound wheel of Double Gloucester from Smart’s Farm in nearby Churcham and it’s made of milk from Gloucester cows. The Smarts claim to be the only family still making Double Gloucester by hand using traditional methods. Today, besides bumps and bruises, the winner takes home a wheel of that creamy local specialty.

Not to be confused with…

A few other towns have, so called cheese rolls. In Stilton, teams of participants in funny clothes roll a small Stilton cheese along the high road of the town. But there is absolutely nothing like Gloucestershire’s wild, wacky, dangerous and insanely bizarre annual Coopers Hill Cheese Roll.

Fantastic photo of cheese rolling by Will de Freitas, ccl

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2 replies
    • Ferne Arfin
      Ferne Arfin says:

      So glad to hear that Stuart – it makes what I do feel really worthwhile. I hope you find more that inspires your students.


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