Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling: What is bizarre tradition & why are people being told ‘go at your own risk’?

Gloucestershire’s famous cheese-rolling event is set to go ahead today, despite a warning there could be ‘mass casualties’ - here’s what you need to know about the bizarre tradition.

Gloucestershire’s famous cheese-rolling event is set to go ahead this bank holiday Monday (May 29) despite safety concerns over the tradition. The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, which is though to be more than 600 years old, sees hundreds of competitiors chase a wheel of cheese down the drop near Brockworth.

The event has no official organisers and is classed as “unsafe” by the authorities, with one senior police officer saying there could be “mass casulaties” if something goes wrong. Gloucestershire’s Local Resilience Forum , which is made up of local councillors and representatives of the emergency services, met earlier this month to discuss the event.

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But what is the bizarre tradition and why is it so controversial? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling?

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an annual tradition that sees hundreds of people gather at Coopers Hill near Brockworth. Competitors then chase a 7lb (3kg) Double Gloucester cheese down the 200-yard drop.

As the hill is so steep, the cheese can reach speeds of up to 70mph. The first runner to catch it is crowned the winner.

According to Visit Gloucester, the first written evidence of cheese rolling is found in a message written to the Gloucester town crier in 1826. Even then it was apparent the event was an old tradition, and it is believed to be at least 600 years old.

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Contestants in the men’s downhill race chase the cheese down the hill in June 2022 in Gloucester, England. Contestants in the men’s downhill race chase the cheese down the hill in June 2022 in Gloucester, England.
Contestants in the men’s downhill race chase the cheese down the hill in June 2022 in Gloucester, England. | Getty Images

Last year’s winner was champion cheese chaser Chris Anderson, who scooped the title for the 23rd time.

Why is Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling ‘unsafe’?

Cooper’s Hill’s 1:2 gradient makes it one of the steepest slopes in Gloucestershire, and people who take part in the tradition often trip and tumble. Chief Superintendent Arman Mathieson, of Gloucestershire Police, is the gold commander for the cheese rolling event this year and says it is “unsafe” for both spectators and participants.

Cooper’s Hill’s 1:2 gradient makes it one of the steepest slopes in Gloucestershire. Cooper’s Hill’s 1:2 gradient makes it one of the steepest slopes in Gloucestershire.
Cooper’s Hill’s 1:2 gradient makes it one of the steepest slopes in Gloucestershire. | Getty Images

He told BBC News: “If a major incident were to occur, if people were to slip at the top of the hill and fall, we would have a crush, we would have multiple casualties and we would have a requirement to respond.” He added that the lack of appropriate planning means that emergency services would struggle to respond.

“We’re never going to stop the event, it’s not in our power to stop the event,” he went on. “It’s a fantastic part of our heritage, but we want to make sure that people can attend and attend safely and enjoy it.”

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