Competition seems to be ingrained into the human psyche as much as the need to eat and breath. This would explain why humans have invented all manner of games in which we may compete against each other for supremacy. Popular modern methods, such as basketball and football, are often designed to test the limits of human capability. Games range from the extremely odd to the outright stupid. Some sports come from traditions, often in rural communities, such as the nearly 200-year-old sport of cheese rolling.
Cheese rolling was first done on Cooper’s Hill in England in the early 1800’s and was originally part of a larger event called Cooper’s Wake that celebrated the harvest. It was thought to be a fertility ritual for the land, to ensure everyone would have lots of food to eat for the following winter season. The celebration featured many other games, but cheese rolling appears to be one of the few still played. The basic concept for the cheese race is to roll a round cheese down Cooper’s Hill and have people chase after it; catching the cheese is the ultimate goal, but the first person down the hill wins in the event it is not.
Multiple races are held on Cooper’s Hill, which is a startling descent. Due to the nearly 75 degree descent, contestants rarely stay on their feet for the entire race. Recorded speeds of the cheese have been above 120 kilometers per hour. Up to 100 competitors have run down Cooper’s Hill at one time. It should be no surprise that the event draws quite a crowd; an annual turn out of about 5,000 people has been recorded since 1997.
Though injuries are a common occurrence at the event, they are rarely severe. Dislocated shoulders are among the most common ailment. However, as in all sports, the prize must always outweigh the danger; gifted to the winner of the race, whether first down the hill or actually catching the cheese, is the dairy treat itself. The winner gets to take home a full round of Double Gloucester cheese made by Diana Smart, who is the only person in Gloucestershire that still makes the cheese by hand. While cheese may not seem like an adequate reward for possibly falling down a 100-foot steep hill, this round of cheese is worth nearly $200 Canadian.
Over the last decade there have been increasing issues with holding the event due to supposedly increased injury and attendance, according to the cheese race website. The most infamous of the cancellations, occuring in 2010, was due to a controversial media splurge. Sources state that English media was claiming an attendance of nearly 15,000 people, almost 10,000 over the usual attendance. This caused an issue with insurance and the event had to be canceled. Instead of giving up, a father and son made an unofficial cheese race with local support, and held the run anyway.
Many people have fond memories of rolling down hills as children, possibly chasing after a favourite toy thrown down ahead, just to watch it bounce. Cheese rolling truly captures the essence of fun in the country, without requiring anything fancy – just a roll of cheese, and a lot of courage.