On your marks, get set… ROLL! Daredevils hurl themselves down Cooper’s Hill in bid to win 7lb wheel of Double Gloucester – after annual Cheese Race is nearly scrapped over fears of ‘mass casualties’
- Gloucestershire’s famous cheese-rolling event has gone ahead despite concerns
Daredevils have taken part in a famous event which involves competitors chasing a 7lb Double Gloucester cheese rolling down a steep 200 yard hill.
Gloucestershire’s famous cheese-rolling event, which has no official organisers, has gone ahead on Bank Holiday Monday despite safety fears.
The county’s Local Resilience Forum – made up of local councillors and representatives of the emergency services – met to discuss their worries about the annual event, where people roll cheeses down Cooper’s Hill.
One senior police officer even said there was a ‘risk of mass casualties’ if something went wrong.
Chief Superintendent Arman Mathieson, who is the gold commander for the event, said it is ‘unsafe’ for both spectators and participants.
Contestants take part in the annual Cheese Race at Coopers Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire this Bank Holiday Monday
‘If a major incident were to occur, if people were to slip at the top of the hill and fall, we would have a crush, we would have multiple casualties and we would have a requirement to respond.’
The ‘lack of appropriate planning’ means that emergency services would struggle to respond, he added.
Hundreds of people gather at Cooper’s Hill, near Brockworth, to watch the event, which is thought to have its roots in a pagan festival to celebrate the return of spring.
Competitors chase a 3kg Double Gloucester cheese rolling down the steep 180m hill. Many trip and tumble as they go, but pick themselves up and resume the chase.
The steep gradient means the event is not for the faint-hearted, and the cheese can reach speeds of up to 70mph, with the first runner to catch it crowned the winner.
The steep gradient means the event is not for the faint-hearted, and the cheese can reach speeds of up to 70mph
The county’s Safety Advisory Board, which is also represented at the Local Resilience Forum, said it was ‘willing to work with representatives from the event to ensure the event can be made safer’.
Where did the cheese rolling tradition come from?
Some say it was all about claiming grazing rights on the common and land around Cooper’s Hill, others believe it could have been a fertility ritual.
The cheese used is 3-4-kilogram Double Gloucester, a hard cheese traditionally made locally in a circular shape. Each is protected for the rolling by a wooden casing round the side, and is decorated with ribbons at the start of the race.
The cheese can reach speeds of up to 70mph.
Contestants run down the hill and the first runner to the bottom wins and the cheese is the prize.
Chris Anderson first competed in 2004 at the age of 17, coming second, and he won his first race in 2005 and beat the record.
Florence Early, from Stroud, first ran the race when she was 17 and is the four-time champion of the ladies’ race.
The Safety Advisory Group said it was willing to help the organisers get the right documentation and insurance in place.
‘We would like to see evidence of safety documentation and risk-assessment processes,’ Kathryn Griffiths, principal environmental health officer of Tewkesbury Borough Council, said.
The event today is dedicated to a woman who had hoped to take part before her death at the age of 22.
Organisers of the ladies’ race at Cooper’s Hill hope to raise awareness of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which Paige McCormack suffered with, after her family said they felt ‘brushed aside’ when trying to get help.
Her mother Fiona said it was ‘a long battle’ to get Paige – who took her own life in October 2022 – the help she needed for PMDD, a severe form of premenstrual syndrome.
‘When we suggested that her symptoms might be linked to her monthly cycle, we were told it was pretty much impossible,’ she said.
Paige, from Brockworth, Gloucestershire, experienced extreme mood swings, ranging from aggression to depression, her family said.
Her dad Tom said: ‘Sometimes she would start punching people, me and her mother, her little brother at times.
‘She was not attacking us, but she did not know what to do with herself. It was a really dark time’.
Claudine Domoney, a doctor at Chelsea and Westminster hospital’s PMDD clinic, said it often gets misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder.
‘PMDD is the equivalent to severe PMS, but because PMS is often downgraded as being a “normal event” in women’s lives, I think PMDD gives it the status that reflects the severity of it.’
She said it impacts women’s ability to work and to hold down relationships.
Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We would like to express our sympathies to Paige’s family and everyone who knew her for their loss.
‘We would welcome a conversation with Paige’s family to ensure we are aware of any element of her care which could have been improved.’
Last year’s champion cheese chaser Chris Anderson took the title for the 23rd time.
Down the years he has suffered for his glory – his injuries have included a broken ankle, bruised kidneys, concussion and a torn calf muscle.
The event attracts competitors from around the world. In 2006, the American National Library of Medicine published a report from The Australian headlined ‘Dozens injured as cheese roll goes crackers.’
‘Twenty five people were injured at an annual cheese rolling competition in which daredevils chase giant cheese wheels down a steep slope in western England,’ it said.
‘Dozens took part in the bizarre event at Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, before a crowd of about 3,000 cheering spectators.’
‘We’re never going to stop the event, it’s not in our power to stop the event,’ said Chief Supt Mathieson.
‘It’s a fantastic part of our heritage, but we want to make sure that people can attend and attend safely and enjoy it.’
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