Every year on the Spring Bank-holiday Monday residents of Brockworth, a village in Gloucestershire, congregate on top of a very steep hill for an event that is known around the world as the UK’s own Cheese Rolling Festival.
What on earth is a Cheese Rolling Festival?!, you may ask. It’s quite simple. A 7lb wheel of finest Gloucester cheese is rolled down this incredibly steep hill. A group of “runners” pelt after it – falling, tumbling and often breaking bones.
Although the event is broadcast around the world, it really has to be seen to be believed.
This is exactly why my friend and kindred spirit Jonathan and I decided that by hook or by crook, we’d get ourselves out to the Cheese Rolling Festival on Cooper’s Hill, making the trip from London.
Why Do People Do This?
No one’s quite sure of how the whole thing started, but it’s thought to have been going on for centuries. The first recorded event took place in 1826.
It’s believed to have pagan origins, as apparently they were big on rolling objects down hills. Perhaps it was done to celebrate the advent of summer, after the long English winter? Maybe it was intended to encourage fertility of the land, or a good harvest.
Whatever the reason, it’s become tradition and is a large part of the local area’s identity.
The Cheese Rolling Festival
The cheese rolling starts at midday on the last bank holiday of every May. I still can’t quite believe Brits get not one, but TWO public holidays during this month.
Do you need to get there early? Well, it’s up to you.
We left London the morning of the event, about an hour later than we intended. As such, we cut it fine – we were pulling into Brockworth at ten to twelve that day.Here's everything you need to know if you're heading out to Gloucestershire's annual Cheese Rolling Festival. #TravelTips #UnitedKingdom Click To Tweet
I thought we’d miss it for sure. However, there were plenty of people still heading towards the event, walking at a pretty steady pace. We parked our car and followed a group of them towards Cooper’s Hill, which was already visible over the local housing estate.
We caught the first cheese roll from a distance.
Then, we headed up the hill to watch the subsequent heats.
I love this one picture of the last member of the women’s heat making their way precariously down the hill, by sliding down on their bottom. Can’t say I blame them.
Here’s two things I didn’t know before heading out to Brockworth.
The first is, that there isn’t just one lone wheel of cheese that’s rolled down the hill on the day. There’s multiple. After watching the race that kicked it all off, we climbed further up the hill and were able to catch a couple more from a better vantage point.
To take a famous phrase by Isaac Newton and completely turn it on its head – what goes down, must come up. Yes, you understood me correctly.
People not only run down after a 7 pound wheel of Double Gloucester. They also have competitions where those of all age groups and genders CLIMB UP THE INCREDIBLY STEEP HILL.
It was awe-inspiring to watch, particularly as someone who these days, gets wiped out from tackling one flight of stairs.
The English are mad. And that is why they’re so much fun to be around.
How is This a Thing That is Still Happening?
This was the question that crossed my mind the most when watching the event.
We Australians despairingly refer to our country as being a “nanny-state” – where the fun police often come out of the woodwork to take and destroy all traditions that we hold dear to both ourselves and our national identity.
The UK can be described similarly, but it’s worse for them, being part of Europe. The continent is notoriously relaxed, when it comes to many things – like drinking on the street, or getting naked in public parks. One of my colleagues summed it up well when he said, rather folornly: “It’s like Europe’s having a giant party and we’re on the outside, looking in.”
So with OH&S concerned killjoys abounds in the world as we know it today, how has this pagan harvest ritual managed to avoid closure for almost 200 years?
I wasn’t surprised to learn that the event has been cancelled quite a few times over the last couple of decades – most recently in 2011. Although I was perplexed to discover that this was not due to possible injuries incurred by runners, but because the rolling was attracting unmanageable crowds.
I don’t know. I worry about this desire to mollycoddle human beings. We’re all grown ups, after all. If we want to launch ourselves from the top of a scary hill in pursuit of a single wheel of cheese, we should be allowed to make that decision for our own.
Luckily, most people would agree with this sentiment. After the race was cancelled for a second time in a row in 2011, officials tried to reign in spectator numbers. They figured they’d make a proper two-day festival out of it and start charging a fee for a place on Cooper’s Hill.
These plans were met by quite a backlash, that included death threats.
Since 2010, the event has taken place without any official management. Instead, volunteers and community members take it upon themselves to ready Cooper’s Hill for the occasion.
Where to Stay
I thoroughly recommend staying in the nearby towns of Gloucester or Cheltenham.
If you choose Cheltenham and what to do it on the cheap, why not stay in a traditional British Bed and breakfast?
Clarence Court Hotel is located right in town for a reasonable price.
If you want to make a fancy weekend of it and experience what Cheltenham is most famous for (spas), consider splurging on a night at The Greenway Hotel and Spa. All three properties come with breakfast, as is the British way.
There are plenty of good options in Gloucester.
For those on a tighter budget, consider an option like New County Hotel.
If you’re looking for something a little more ritzy, then maybe you’d like to spend the night at Hatton Court Hotelreally special, consider staying in this gorgeous little cottage or this secluded lodge. God, I miss England.
Getting There – Choosing a Mode of Transport
Gloucestershire is located in a part of the UK known as the Cotswolds.
It’s England as I and probably you have always imagined it – rolling hills, medieval villages, stately homes (that are probably worth the same price as a small flat in the more “desirable” parts of London) and the most vivid shades of green.
It is lush. I’ve been wanting to use that word more frequently since moving here and it sums it up well.
There are three likely modes of transport you can take to make it to Brockworth in time for the event.
Trains are quite a reliable mode of transport in Britain – but it does largely depend on where you live and where you’re going.
For example, because I don’t live in North London and have access to the Underground, I suffer daily at the hands of Thameslink and Southern Trains.
It is possible to catch a train from London – there are stations located in nearby Gloucester, Cheltenham Spa and Stroud. From all accounts (ie, my Great Aunt) avoid Cheltenham Spa if you can, as the station is tatty!
From there you can either take a taxi to Cooper’s Hill for the main event, or a bus.
National Rail is your best bet for further information regarding train times. Try not to put your foot through your computer while navigating their website.
Similarly, buses run from the capital (via Victoria coach station) through to major cities like Cheltenham, Stroud and Gloucester. I’ve travelled with National Express to Stroud and it was pleasant and hassle-free – although I did have to change buses at Bristol.
Did someone say ROAD TRIP?!
If you’re pressed for time/not keen on public transport/not attending the event on your lonesome (AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, IN ANY CASE) then my recommendation would be just to hire a car for the event.
Do you value both your life and sanity? Excellent. Unless you’re extremely experienced in the matter, I wouldn’t try to navigate through London traffic.
Instead, hot foot it out to Heathrow via the Tube or the Heathrow Express. From there, you can nab a vehicle from any number of the hire car services out there (we picked up a naff little Fiat from Europcar). You’ll hop straight onto the M25, then follow the M4 out west.
It’s fun, because you get to drive under signs that say “WEST COUNTRY”, play games like “what’s the speed limit on this road?” (apparently this is an ingrained thing that all Brits know, as I saw NO signs) and once you reach the Cotswolds, drive along roads that will make you feel like you’re living in an Enid Blyton novel.
From there, you can (possibly illegally) park your car wherever you please, head to the hill for the event and take in your fill of cheese rolling. Make sure you beat the parking inspectors back to your vehicle!
That, and you have the freedom to go wherever you please after the last wheel of cheese has rolled down the hill.
What to Do Afterwards
And how should you amuse yourself after all the revelry?
WELL, you could turn right around, to journey back to the big, old city.
Or, you could go explore some of Britain’s finest towns, breathe fresh air into your lungs and marvel at the beauty that is the English countryside.
Can you guess which option we chose?
In a toss up between Cheltenham and Gloucester, we decided we’d make our way to one of the UK’s two famous regency spa towns. Bath is of course, the other.
Oh my, Cheltenham is a beauty. We wandered around the town centre, ogling at the ornate regency architecture, chatting with locals (a welcomed change from being outright ignored on the streets of London) and taking a cream tea in the conservatory of one of the local hotels (Malmaison, for anyone who is interested).
From there we headed straight to Stroud, driving along magical roads and I’m fairly certain passing the Faraway Tree somewhere along the way.
We spent the night there, to avoid what was undoubtably horrific traffic heading back into London at the end of the long weekend.
Did We Actually Get Any Cheese?
Ah. The most important question of all.
I am sad to say we did NOT acquire any cheese during our mini-break to the Cotswolds. We sought out a store dedicated to the stuff in Cheltenham, but it was sadly and rather untimely shut.
Such a shame.
For the record, English cheese is possibly some of the finest currently in existence. It’s severely underrated and makes French cheese pale in comparison.
That’s my two cents (pence?) on the matter. I eat a lot of cheese, so I consider myself an authority on the subject.
Is it Worth Checking Out?
Interested in attending this year? Check out the official webpage which rivals the Space Jam website as far as “coolest web presence” goes.
If you liked this, you might also enjoy:
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Oops, I pinned it again.
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