Reel History – The Cheese-rolling Folk Tradition of Gloucestershire

Reckless self-endangerment for fun and cheese

With it being the Late May Bank Hoilday, Jenna Pateman has written about a very odd local tradition of Gloucestershire, known as Cheeserolling. Warning: There are pictures of people throwing themselves down a hill 

 

Going back to my very first article for the Bunkazilla Blog (Reel History: 1895 and all that) I mentioned that I was born and still live in a town called Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. I adore my hometown and county, from the stunning architecture, alright shopping, hills that surround the town and county in spectacular ways, the way that I appear to most people as posh, until I say the word tractor…

‘Cause I’ve got a brand new combine harvester!

Oh, and of course the brilliant tradition that happens on a hillside every Late May Bank Holiday, where people of all genders, cultures, ages, and whatever, throw themselves down an almost cliff after some Double Gloucestershire and a Tenner. It such a random event, and I may have a thing about telling almost everyone I meet about it at some point.

Do you have time to talk about the importance of Cheeserolling!

So for the people that did not know that this was a thing. What on earth is Cheeserolling…. and WHY?!?!

So what is Cheeserolling? And how did this start?

Cheese-rolling is a Gloucestershire folk tradition dating back to at least 180, although there are records showing it may have started in the area as far back as the 8th Century. The tradition is very simple, as it is basically a 250 yard race down Cooper’s Hill, in Brockworth; however, the main difference is that the participants are also chasing a round of cheese and the first one to either catch the cheese or cross the finish line wins the cheese. The race can be very dangerous due to the gradient of the hill, which starts at 1:2 and changes to 1:1 in places. This leads to a lot of the participants tripping and falling down the steep hill, even if they are being careful.

Yes, they are all after that little white wheel

There are different theories of why the tradition of Cheese-rolling started, the strongest relating to a pagan custom of rolling objects downhills during the New Year period. In this theory, the Cheese represents the sun or the seasons, and the roll represents the passage of time for both of these and the way that everything is in a continuous cycle. This would have been part of a bigger ceremony that included other harvest celebrations like the scattering of seeds. At Cheese-rolling events, this is represented by the master of ceremony traditionally scattering buns, biscuits and sweets at the top of the hill, which represents a fertility rite to encourage the fruits of the harvest.

Modern Cheeserolling

Nowadays, the event takes place on the second May Bank Holiday and involves five adults’ races and one children’s race. The event has been running unofficially since 2010 as around 15,000 people turned out for the 2009 event, sparking concern over numbers as Cooper’s Hill is said to be only suitable for about a third of that number. Also if the event was run officially it would need to secure road closures and medical staff, and have police officers on site, none of which the event can afford to pay for. St John’s ambulance attends as volunteers.

And yes… people do get very hurt just for the cheese

The reason for the large numbers attending the event is the huge exposure it has enjoyed on the internet, which has boosted awareness, helping it find international fame with people coming from as far as Japan, America and South Africa to watch and join in with the event. With the growth in popularity, the event has been shown on television newscasts around the world every year, adding to its fame. It has even inspired some video game parodies including on Skyrim.

I believe the reason that this event has remained so popular is due to oddness of the event, with its new fame encouraging people to travel for the event and consequently boosting the local economy in an area of Gloucestershire that does not otherwise get much tourism. Before internet fame hit, it was enjoyed as a very silly event that was practised as a bit of a laugh, to bring the local community together, have a drink and throw yourself down a rather big hill after a round Double Gloucester.

Was it worth it? Yes!

Unfortunately, this year, thanks to a certain little virus, it has been called off, although to be honest, it is very likely that someone will be still running after a cheese. 

Please enjoy a video from last year, and enjoy the madness that is Gloucestershire 

 

Jenna Pateman

Jenna Pateman is one of the hosts of Reel History, now broadcasting on Bunkazilla. Check the schedule for upcoming broadcast times.

You can follow Jenna on twitter @nadesicokitty and if you enjoyed her work you can support here at Ko-fi.com. Just hit the button below.