It wasn’t supposed to take place at all this year but the great Brockworth tradition of rolling a cheese down a 1 in 2 hill and then running after it, survives.
It survives the massive over-hyping of it and the visiting crowds from all over the country and abroad that caused such chaos in 2009 that it’s whole existence was called into question.
It survives the attempts of the marketing/local authority bods to convert it into a massive, pointless “away from the site” party while limiting numbers and charging locals who wanted to go on to the hill.
There were only about 250 people up on Cooper’s Hill today – the lowest number I’ve ever seen, but this was Cheese Rolling Unplugged – without a committee, without official sanction, without a huge police and paramedic presence, without health and safety putting notices up everywhere.
It survives as an old-established local custom for local people run with the simple old-fashioned principle of using common sense. It was only the competitors who were lacking in that particular trait. Why else would you launch yourself down slope that’s near-vertical in places in pursuit of Double Gloucester?
The cheese rolling has been an annual tradition since time immemorial (and I’m never sure when that was but it’s a nice phrase). It’s been part of my life since I was 7 and grew up in Brockworth, which is the village below Cooper’s Hill. We could see the slope from our back garden. We didn’t always go up there. Sometimes we watched with binocs from afar.
I have climbed the slope but only without ever, EVER, looking back or down because I have a paralysing fear of heights. I have only ever looked over the top of the hill from a distance but I’m quite happy standing at the bottom looking up and admiring the courage of those fearless souls that throw themselves off in pursuit of a bouncing round 8 pound Double Gloucester.
So up on the hill, in the clouds today, with steady rain falling, they demonstrated enormous courage or plain daftness, whatever your point of view.
You knew when they were about to launch themselves. The burly catchers at the bottom of the hill spread out and looked alert. Members of the public were cleared from the area directly beneath the slope and the cry went up from the distant top of the hill “One to be ready, two to be steady, three for the CHEEEEEEESE!!!”
A white dot bounced down followed, at some distance it must be said, by the chasers. Rain made the whole thing very slippery and the entertainment value was high.
The chasers stumbled, bounced, somersaulted, tumbled and slid down the slope to rapturous applause from watching enthusiasts.
In one race, even the last man in, who wanted to keep his Barbour jacket clean and strolled down the middle section of the hill, breaking into a little trot – got a round of very warm applause for finishing.
Despite the lack of formal publicity of this very low-key, officially banned, event, a significant number of people had still come from some distance – Australians from London, a Swedish guy who came second in one race (never gain) had made the date to come from Sweden, and the winner of the ladies race, Joanna Guest, had made the journey down from Wolverhampton specially to compete. She’s a climber. “I’m used to heights but not to falling!” she said.
I didn’t think I knew anyone who had ever competed, except my scary nemesis at school but then, she would! But talking to a friend recently, he revealed he was a local boy and took part in the cheese rolling when he was about 19.
“I had ten pints at the Twelve Bells then we walked up the hill and just did it,” he said.
“Don’t remember a thing about it though.”