Cheese rolling – however weird and wonderful it may be – is officially an extreme sport. Visitors from all over the world head to Gloucester to either compete or spectate in this unique tradition held on Cooper’s Hill near Brockworth. In essence, spectators come to watch a brave selection of people who fancy chasing a huge Double Gloucester cheese rolling down this incredibly steep 200 yard high hill. It’s made its mark on the world and most recently was featured in Netflix’s We Are The Champions. In this article, I share all you need to know about the cheese rolling in Gloucester. Having been born and bred in Gloucestershire, I have insight into this bizarre sport, including its origins and the best place to watch it.
What is cheese rolling?
Arguably England’s weirdest sport, every May cheese rolling in Gloucester takes place in the south west of England. Cheese rolling isn’t just a sport – it’s a whole event. People travel from all over the world to watch brave competitors throw themselves down an incredibly steep hill in order to chase a giant cheese. Relatively self-explanatory, a Double Gloucester cheese weighing 3-4kg is launched from the top of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester, and competitors chase it down the hill, make it over the finish line, and be crowned the Cheese Rolling Champion for that year. The huge Double Gloucester cheese is their prize. While the original goal was to catch the cheese, this soon become pretty challenging. Despite the cheese having just a one second head start, it quickly gathers speed and becomes dangerous. Nowadays, the winner is the first person across the finish line. It’s safe to say cheese rolling in Gloucester has seen its fair share of accidents, and the city has since unsuccessfully tried to ban the sport on a few occasions.
Where does cheese rolling take place?
Each May, cheese rolling in Gloucester takes place in the small village of Brockworth. Head to the top of Cooper’s Hill, and you’ll be joined by hundreds of other spectators (and competitors). Most of those who compete are brave locals, although many come from across the world. You’ll even find a pub in nearby Shurdington called The Cheese Rollers, where many contestants visit for a spot of Dutch courage before taking to the top of the hill.
What’s the history of cheese rolling?
The first evidence of cheese rolling in Gloucester is thought to date back to 1826. Supposedly a message was written to Gloucester’s town crier, but even then it appears cheese rolling was a tradition steeped in history. It is thought to be a sport that is now over six hundred years old! As to how cheese rolling came about, there are a few theories. Some people believe that it was a sport used to determine grazing rights on the commons. Others believe it’s a pagan event – that locals would throw burning wood down the hill to represent the New Year after the end of winter. This is why the Masters of the Ceremony choose to lay out buns, biscuits, and sweets at the top of Cooper’s Hill to encourage the harvest. Others even think it was a fertility ritual!
When does the cheese rolling take place?
Cheese rolling in Gloucester takes place every year on the late Spring Bank Holiday Monday at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester. Next year, Gloucester Cheese Rolling 2024 will be held on Monday 27th May. The first race begins at 12pm. It’s free to attend.
Here’s the Cheese Rolling 2024 schedule for this year:
- Men’s Downhill Race. You’ll likely hear chants of ‘cheese, cheese, cheese!’, and the Masters of the Ceremony will help to get the crowd going. The cheese is sent down the hill, and you’ll watch the contestants scramble and tumble down the hill. Most times, local men from Brockworth are the reigning champions.
- Women’s Downhill Race. Last year, an American student won the Women’s Downhill Race, and prior champion Flo Early had won four times!
- Uphill Race. So that the kids can join in in a safer way, there’s also an uphill challenge. Kids can race from the bottom of Cooper’s Hill, all the way to the top. A day at the cheese rolling in Gloucester is certainly a family event!
What are the rules of cheese rolling?
The rules of cheese rolling are pretty straightforward. There are five downhill races. Three of these races are for men, one is for women, and there’s also an uphill race for children to climb from the bottom to the top of Cooper’s Hill. For each race, a maximum of 14 contestants are allowed to take part, although often more people join in. The Masters of Ceremony kick off the cheese rolling by shouting the following:
“1 to be ready, 2 to be steady, 3 to prepare (the cheese is released), and 4 to be off“
At this point, the competitors each throw themselves down Cooper’s Hill in order to chase the cheese. The first person to cross the finish line is crowned the winner. At the bottom of Cooper’s Hill, you’ll see the Brockworth Rugby team waiting to catch the contestants as a kind of barricade!
Which cheese is used in the race?
It wouldn’t be the cheese rolling in Gloucester if a Gloucester cheese wasn’t used! And of course, it has to be a classic Double Gloucester cheese. For the cheese rolling, a whopping 3-4kg Double Gloucester cheese is used. It’s traditionally made circular, and is made by local Gloucester cheesemaker, Mrs Smart, each year. The cheese itself is protected by a wooden casing, and it’s decorated with ribbons at the beginning of the race. Naturally, the cheese is the prize awarded to each of the winners.
How fast does the cheese roll?
As if there wasn’t enough excitement to the cheese rolling with the gradient of Cooper’s Hill, the cheese may roll faster than you think. In fact, it can reach speeds of up to 70mph. The contestants then chase the cheese as fast as they can in an attempt to be the first to cross the finishing line. Because the cheese goes so fast, it is very difficult to catch it – for this reason, the rules of the event were changed and the winner is now the first person to cross the finish line.
How steep is Cooper’s Hill?
Cooper’s Hill is unbelievably steep – I can tell you this having climbed in on several occasions while growing up in nearby Cheltenham! (And also sledding down it in the winter). In fact, Cooper’s Hill is nearly vertical, with a 1:2 gradient. It’s 200 yards long, too. The hill is so steep that very few contestants manage to stay on their feet when participating in the cheese rolling. Instead, most of them will tumble down the hill to get to the finish line first.
Cheese rolling accidents
When we’re talking a 2:1 hill gradient and a cheese rolling at 70 miles per hour, it’s little surprise there are often accidents during the cheese rolling in Gloucester. Some contestants do not make it all the way down the hill without sustaining an injury. In 1997, the cheese rolling saw its highest injury toll yet, with 33 contestants being treated for injuries – everything from broken bones to splinters. For this reason, there have been attempts to ban the event, but it continues to go ahead. Thankfully, there is always a First Aid station and an ambulance nearby.
How to get to the cheese rolling in Gloucester
There are a few ways to get to the cheese rolling in Gloucester. I’d highly recommend visiting by car, as Brockworth itself is easiest to reach by vehicle. You can reach Brockworth in around 2 hours via the M25 from London, and around 45 minutes from Birmingham, Bristol, and Oxford. Once you get to Brockworth, I recommend parking in the Toby Carvery Brockworth car park, and walking to the hill from there as you find various roads are closed for the event. It’s about a 30 minute walk from here to a place to watch. If you don’t have a car, you could get the train to Gloucester station, or via coach. From the station, you can catch the number 10 bus to the Cross Hands roundabout in Brockworth and walk to Cooper’s Hill from there.
Tips for attending the cheese rolling
From my experience, you’ll want to get to Cooper’s Hill in plenty of time to secure a good viewing point on the sidelines. As it’s held on the late Spring Bank Holiday, it does get busy. The bottom of the hill probably offers the best view of all, as you get a full view of the action. Be sure to take plenty of water and snacks. You should also be prepared to do some hill walking, so comfortable shoes are a must. Bring sunglasses and suncream if it’s a sunny day (there’s not much in the way of shelter), and an umbrella and rain jacket if it’s looking cloudy. Although the event is free to attend, it is run by the local Brockworth community. If you enjoy your day, it’s a good idea to make a donation – all profits go towards safely running the event and maintaining the hill so it can take place each year.
How can you participate in the cheese rolling?
If you’re feeling brave and want to take part in the cheese rolling this year, it’s pretty simple to join in. There’s no paperwork or application that needs filling out beforehand. You simply need to get to the top of Cooper’s Hill ahead in time and make yourself known to the event organisers. Don’t go into this thinking it’ll be a breeze – it’s all at your own risk and there have been some serious accidents in the past.
That’s my guide to the cheese rolling in Gloucester! Let me know if you have any questions or comments about visiting the event in the box below, and I’ll do my very best to answer them for you.