The Fools on the Hill Chasing Cheese Down

Gravity Is the Only Real Winner This Very Strange, Very British Game


Descending this hill with rock climbing gear would be terrifying. Running down it on foot is just badass. (Dave Farrance)

Published: December 11, 2008

There is a three-pronged combination of reasons why cheese rolling should take the NHL’s place on SportsCenter: (1) A very steep incline (2) Lots and lots of injuries and (3) the employment of an actual dairy product.

Cheese rolling is an annual competition that takes place each Spring Bank Holiday on Cooper’s Hill, outside of Gloucestershire, England, commencing as 20 or so competitors ascend to the top of the steep embankment and wait for the signal from the Master of Ceremonies. Upon release of the prized projectile, runners fling themselves down the muddy incline, flipping and flailing after a custom-made wheel of Double Gloucester cheese that can reportedly reach speeds of 70 miles per hour. Injuries are common and wildly popular among spectators who revel in the sight of bodies careening down the hill like ragdolls.

Local authorities take considerably less pleasure in the carnage, however, and forced the cancellation of the event in 1998. Heightened safety measures have resuscitated the rolling, though, including the presence of a highly skilled team of medics specializing in cave rescues. Why, might you ask, is a cave rescue team necessary? The answer: the regular ambulance team could not climb the hill to provide proper medical attention, let alone transport an injured runner (or a cadaver) off of the slope.

The event organizers were not going to let the man step in the way off tradition, however, holding covert cheese rollings during the years when police interference stopped the race. Those perseverant Gloucestershirians ceremoniously heaved a wheel of cheese down the hill, chased by a lone runner, keeping alive an annual tradition so ancient no one knows the origins.

Not even World War II could get in the way of the festivities. When Britain was under strict rationing rules during the 1940s and ’50s, the wheel of cheese was replaced by a wooden wheel. Fearful of breaking tradition, the organizers carved a small notch into this wooden wheel, inserting a sliver of Double Gloucester to preserve tradition.

Tradition alone is not enough to make a normal person heave himself down a hill, though, so surely there must be some incentive involved. Second and third place receive, respectively, ₤10 and ₤5 – hardly a sum worth an emergency room visit for. First prize? A muddy, sopping wet, deformed wheel of  Double Gloucester. Yep, the same dairy product you just throw yourself down a hill after. So the next time you pay $5 for a pack of Kraft singles at Morton Williams, consider the alternative.