It’s hard to describe the spectacle of the cheese rolling. Competitors launch themselves down the near vertical Cooper’s Hill, in the small village of Brockworth in England, attempting to catch a 3.5kg cheese that has been thrown down the hill. The first competitor to the bottom of the hill wins the cheese! Unfortunately, a few previous winners have claimed to not even like cheese. The origins of this tradition are unknown; it began in the nineteenth century but we don’t know much more than that. As with many local festivities it wasn’t officially recorded.
Cooper’s Hill is perilously steep, so whilst all competitors begin standing, none remain that way. After a few steps most have fallen over. If you can, search online for videos of the cheese rolling but be warned that it can be painful watching as runners tumble head over heels. British rock band the Maccabees featured the cheese rolling in their music video for the single ‘Can You Give It’, and it gives a good sense of the atmosphere on the day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffIaVzavIxE
The event was cancelled in 2009. Surprisingly, this was not out of concern for the competitors’ safety but due to fears for the wellbeing of the spectators. Huge crowds nearing 15,000 people turned up to watch the event, far more than could be safely accommodated on the hill. In 2010 organisers attempted to create a more regulated cheese rolling, including charging an entrance fee to cover the insurance costs of over £250,000. So great was the anger aimed at the organisers over these plans that the cheese rolling was cancelled again. However, an ‘unofficial’ cheese rolling was planned instead, and it is this ‘unofficial’ event that has happened ever since.
This year, the cheese rolling attracted crowds of about 5,000, a much more manageable number. Whilst no one has ever died during the cheese rolling (to my knowledge), it is certainly not a safe competition! Each year there are several injuries, the worst year being 1997 with 33 competitors being treated for everything from splinters to broken bones. It isn’t only the runners who are at risk, one year a rogue cheese knocked over an audience member!
Note from editor: This event, and several other unusual British festivals, is mentioned in this Listening skills practice activity.
Are there any unusual festivals in your country?