Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Cheese Rolling - England's Extreme Sport

England has a lot of terrific little quirks. An obsession with baked beans, an aversion to iced beverages and an absolute affinity towards cheese. And cheese rolling. An event that has been going on for hundreds of years and some say it has roots in pre-Roman times.

For no real known reason, (fertility rites and harvest rituals are suspected) every May in the town of Gloucestershire, (pronounced Gluster-shur) on top of Cooper's Hill (which is ONE DEGREE off from being classified as a CLIFF) they hold the annual Cheese Rolling, and I was lucky enough to attend this insane event (along with many other Americans and not a short supply of Kiwis and Aussies) yesterday.

Cheese Rolling? Basically, a man hurls a 7 pound wheel of Double Gloucester Cheese down a hill and 10-15 competitors (per race) run after it, while a few thousand spectators balance on the edge of the track to catch a glimpse. Both participants and spectators have been seriously injured in the past, with broken bones being the least of their worries, as the cheese can land in the crowd knocking them over like so many bowling pins.

So it was knowing all of this was coming that a group of 8 of us set out in The Major (a retired Army Rover, equipped with night vision goggles and a top speed of about 45 mph) so my BF could toss himself down a hill and we could cheer him on, and pick him up from the hospital later, should need be.

We arrived early and paid the £5 fee to park in a spacious, hilly field (which The Major made short order of, wasting Fiats in its wake) and proceeded to troop off into the beautiful woods towards the hill. At a fork in the path, the BF headed up, as the rest of us edged closer and closer to insure a clear view. I should mention again that this is an outrageously, seriously, frighteningly steep hill, and spectators were crashing down everywhere. We heard cries of “Save the beer!” rise up from the crowd as onlookers tumbled South taking out everything in their paths as they toppled. The pictures just cannot do the severity of the angle justice.

At the top of the hill, runners (chasers?) vied for a spot among the hundreds trying. Since it was first come, first served, and there had been people there all morning, the crowd was restless and drunk. I mean, if you were about to essentially jump down a cliff, wouldn’t you want to loosen up a little with a frosty Fosters? Sadly, the BF arrived too late, and was turned back, though offered a spot in the uphill race, which he declined. I am sad he didn’t get to give it a go, but am happy the day ended with him in one piece.

The downhill runs (there are uphill races for children) are presided over by a Master of Ceremonies who wears a traditional white trench coat, a top hat and a large fake flower in a buttonhole. He is a sight to see. (Picture below) At exactly noon the crowd began to cheer, “Roll the Cheese!” and the guest 'roller' flung the cheese with the tried and true call of: "One to be ready, two to be steady, three to prepare - and FOUR to be off". At that point, the mad men (and in one race, mad women) flung themselves downward at amazing velocities to catch the cheese (and some air.) Bodies flew through space, legs were snapped, paramedics waited at the bottom of the run, and in the end (of the second race) young Jason Crowther from Wales came out the victorious and proud owner of a large wheel of cheese he doesn’t intend to ever eat. (Despite sweet pleadings from the ladies for “Just a little nibble”) For their valiant efforts, the second place winner was awarded a whopping £5 and the third runner up, £2.

After the last race, (which they delayed starting because there were no ambulances left and they had to wait for one to return) we settled into the field for a classic British picnic (classic because of the Brits good hearted but stubborn refusal to leave, as temperatures dropped and rain began to fall) of cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches, (looking like PB&J in that photo up there) and outrageously sweet local strawberries. We then held our own Cheese Roll (Cheese as prize, a Baby Bell) which (though he cheated) the BF did win, much to his own satisfaction. We also ran into the actual race winner of the cheese on the drive home, and they compared prizes.

If you are in the area, and want to spend a day enjoying this, England's own extreme sport, I applaud and encourage you. Just get there early, and have a blast!

The 2001 Cheese Roll event was cancelled as a result of the foot and mouth crisis

During rationing in the Second World War the cheese was replaced by a wooden replica - still with a piece of cheese inside

Heavier people tend to sit, while lean ones are more restless and spent two more hours a day on their feet - standing, pacing around and fidgeting. The difference translated into 350 calories a day, enough for the heavy people to take off 30 to 40 pounds a year, if they would get moving. Researchers believe the tendency to sit still or move around is biological and inborn, governed by genetically determined levels of brain chemicals. And that tendency influences weight - not the other way around.
- NY Times


hey i saw an indian recipe thingy on 1 of u're earlier posts...i thought u would appreciate this site:
Is that a naked bottom I see in one photo. Cheese rolling sounds strange enough to my staid Canadian sensibilities, but wow. Naked cheeserolling is just too much for me. I need a cup of tea and a lie down.

Now Branston pickle. That's might make me feel better. I love Branston pickle (I had a pommy mate in Melbourne whose mum would send bottled Branston pickle over) Yum.
I LOVE that a Canadian finds the Brits outrageous. Bless you all. That IS a naked boy. Im not sure if it was the weather, the TV cameras or the beer, but some of the participants (in that case, in an uphill race) were *ahem* less than fully dressed. (there was actually a dot.com ad on his, um, back too)

If you want some of that pickle, I'd be happy to send a bottle!
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