Roll up! Castle Howard designates UK’s first ‘downhill rolling zone’

Children Rhiannon, seven, Hannah, nine, and Gabriella, 13, rolling down the hill by Ray Wood at Castle Howard.
Children Rhiannon, seven, Hannah, nine, and Gabriella, 13, rolling down the hill by Ray Wood at Castle Howard.
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AS warning signs go, it is among the more unusual you might expect to come across in the grounds of one of Yorkshire’s finest historic houses.

But visitors to Castle Howard, near York, this summer are being warned to be on guard against a sudden influx of rolling people - as it has designated a grassy bank as the UK’s first official ‘downhill rolling zone’.

Adults and children alike are being urged to enjoy the simple pleasures of rolling down the grassy bank above the footpath that leads from Ray Wood to Castle Howard.

The designated ‘rolling zone’ is 11m wide and 126m long down the perfect incline for downhill rolling – sufficiently sloped to get a decent speed up, but not too steep as to lose control.

The width enables up to three children – or a child and an adult – to roll concurrently, making it ideal for informal racing.

“We are unaware of any official ski-slope style ratings for rolling hills, but would say that this one is an intermediary slope – perfect for children and adults alike to enjoy the pursuit,” marketing manager Rachel Underwood said. “We do have a second, much smaller slope in the Boar Garden, which is an ideal starter slope for younger children in an area often frequented by mother and toddler groups – no matter how young or old you are, you can roll to your heart’s content.”

The designation comes just a few weeks after the National Trust dubbed rolling down “a really big hill” as the second thing all children must do before they turn 11 and three-quarters.

The Trust’s latest campaign to get children engaging with the outdoors also championed climbing a tree, building a den, playing pooh sticks, and going stargazing.

Castle Howard have even come up with the best rolling techniques to make the most of the hill.

They include lateral rolling, where your body is straight with your arm tucked in, and the faster but more difficult snowball roll, where a forward roll - or roly poly - is repeated, gathering speed as the roller heads down the hill.

For the lateral roll, they recommend a quick push off using the momentum to carry you forward - but warn that it is common for rollers to veer off a straight line and come to a stop when their body is no longer perpendicular to the slope. An emergency stop can be implemented by simply sticking out a leg or an arm.

The snowball roll, the team said, requires a little more practice, but can be far more accurate in terms of direction, thus enabling a longer distance to be travelled. It can, however, be more difficult to stop.

By creating the rolling space, the team at Castle Howard are hoping that it will mark the start of more informal use of the 1,000 acres of garden and forest.

“Our grounds are a space that are perfect for exploring – and we want all of our visitors to feel free to run, laugh, play and make the most of this stunning setting,” said Ms Underwood.

“Castle Howard is a family home, and generations of Howard children have played inside and out.

“This isn’t a library where visitors have to remain studiously silent, but a place that comes alive with the sound of fun and laughter both within the house itself and in the grounds.”

The slope was chosen not only for the incline, but because this stretch of grass is generally clear of debris, with the exception of the occasional mole hill.

“This is designed to be a fun and safe pursuit, not a game of Donkey Kong,” added Ms Underwood.

Rolling into the record books

Some Guinness World Records for rolling include:

• The most people to roll down a hill in one hour is 570 and was achieved at a National Trust event in Polesden Lacey, Surrey, UK on July 26, 2014.

• The greatest distance travelled forward rolling by a team in one hour is 10,163.66m and was set by Mid Island Gymsports in New Zealand, on September 16, 2008. The team completed 169 laps.

• Ashrita Furman performed 8,341 forward rolls in 10hr 30min over 12miles from Lexington to Charleston, Massachusetts, on April 30, 1986; and hit the record books again in November 2000 after performing one mile of gymnastically correct forward rolls in 19 minutes and 11 seconds.