Say Cheese! Our Obsession with Double Gloucester, and other Cotswold Traditions
Only having hurled yourself down a dangerously steep hill, at an alarming speed, and in an effort to chase a 9 lb Double Gloucester cheese, can you begin to understand the eccentricities of Cotswold life. And even then, it may be difficult to appreciate the extent of our wonderfully quirky culture.
For those curious as to what we might get up to on a sunny summer’s day, chasing cheese down a hill may seem bizarre. Not so. Every year, and for hundreds of years, Cotswold locals have gathered together on ‘Whit Monday’ to prove their daring and their worth by tumbling down a grassy thorny slope, with no protection and plenty of courage. There is a fine line between bravery and recklessness and this event perhaps blurs that distinction. Whatever the reason, this ritual is longstanding; there is written evidence of Cheese Rolling having taken place in 1826, though it is suspected to have been an old tradition even before this date.
My first exposure to such daring feats was as a child of ten or so. We would drive as a family to the bottom of Cooper’s hill and watch with awe as bodies hurtled towards us, limbs flailing in all directions. What entertainment! As we got older and steadier on our own feet, my brothers and I would crawl and scramble up the side of the hill, grasping at branches and people for grip and sliding every second step. Just the effort of getting up the hill and maintaining a perch without slipping was evidence enough of the steepness of the hill, and reason enough for me to decide never to give it a go.
One year we lost my brother. In our efforts to pick our way through the crowds and get a decent view of the ensuing carnage, he slipped off and made his way to the top. We didn’t realise until I saw his hat fly past us closely followed by his head, then body, and finally his limbs. In a blur of movement he hurtled through the air and smashed into the grass before continuing on and rolling over and over until finally, the local rugby team tackled him to a halt. I couldn’t believe it. I was sure he was hurt and I could have sworn something mush have dislocated with the angles his arms were flying at. Slipping and sliding our way to the bottom, mind whirling with what we had just witnessed, we charged towards him fully expecting the worst. And there he was. Dazed and grinning like an idiot, carefully assessing his cuts and showing off his bruises. “That was AWESOME” he laughed when he saw our shock, “I’m going again!”.
Can you win at Cheese Rolling?
To my knowledge, no one has ever actually caught up with the cheese, which is given a one-second head start and can reach speeds of 70mph during its frantic descent – though for the past few years a foam replica has been used to prevent spectator injury. After all, who wants to turn up to the hospital with a broken arm and have to explain they were out for a walk and got hit by a cheese? I believe the winner is now given the real Double Gloucester Cheese after the race. Needless to say, despite the ferocity of which my brother took chase, he did not win – though we did have cheese toasties to celebrate his survival!
Brave or reckless, this event is certainly thrilling. Families bring picnics, teenagers bring beer and the ambulances waiting on standby. Couples travel up from London and people visit from all over the world to compete or even just witness men risk injury over cheese. And why ever not?!