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Buckland Court

Cotswolds, England

An annual ‘fromage affray’ in Gloucestershire!

Posted by Jonathan Broom on May 21, 2018
An annual ‘fromage affray’ in Gloucestershire!

What a peculiar place Britain is.

Glorious countryside, a wealth of history, beautiful villages, vibrant towns and majestic cities – and a population who, by and large, are friendly, tolerant, inclusive and laid-back. We’re proud, but we wear our Britishness lightly.

But we’re also prone to doing things which, to foreigners, must seem utterly incomprehensible. Or, at least, completely pointless. Bog-snorkelling. Dwyle-flunking. Egg-throwing. And more.

The first is a relatively recent addition to the British sporting calendar – but the origins of the last two go back centuries.

As does cheese-rolling.

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an event staged every year on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester, just shy of 30 miles from Buckland Court. It was traditionally organised (and participated in) by the denizens of the local village of Brockworth, but its popularity has gathered pace (rather like the cheese) to the point that people now come from all over the world to watch, and to take part.

The format is simple. From the crest of Cooper’s Hill, a nine-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is sent rolling down, and competitors hare off down the hill after it. The first participant to cross the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. In theory, contestants are aiming to catch the cheese; however, this is only even faintly possible at the beginning. It has a head start of about a second (in the picture at top the cheese, towards the bottom right, is already pulling out a lead) and can reach speeds up to 70mph – enough to knock over and injure a spectator. Indeed, injuries are not unheard-of; onlookers largely escape unscathed, but the competitors are barrelling down a one-in-three gradient, and they do not hold back.

It's not the flying that hurts - it's the landing: a cheese-chaser takes to the air

Originally the event took place on Whit Monday, but it is now a fixture on the Spring Bank Holiday. How did it start? Two theories:

The first is that it evolved from a need to maintain animal grazing rights on the common – though whether the annual staging of the event renewed and perpetuated the grazing rights of the local peasantry as a whole, or just conferred grazing rights on the lucky winner, is not known. But the second, more romantic, explanation is that it followed on from the pagan custom  of rolling objects down the hill; it is believed that bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down to mark the start of a new year following the winter. How blazing faggots evolved into a round of Gloucestershire’s finest curd is anyone’s guess; but linked to this belief is the traditional scattering of sweetmeats at the top of the hill by the Master of Ceremonies, thought to be a fertility ritual to encourage a bountiful harvest.

Until recent years the cheese-rolling was managed in a semi-official manner by elected locals, but in early 2010 the ‘organisers’ incurred widespread opprobrium following an announcement of how the 2011 event would be run. Plans had been made to bring the cheese-rolling under the jurisdiction of the local council, which ordered that security should be brought in; that there should be perimeter fencing to facilitate crowd control; and that fee-paying spectator areas should be set up.

Since which time the event has proceeded without management; the locals weren’t having it. So perhaps, as well as friendly, tolerant, inclusive and laid-back, we might also add of the British: ‘occasionally bolshy’.

This year’s cheese-rolling takes place on 28th May – which means that by the time you read this, in all probability you’ll have missed it. But there’s always next year, and the year after that, and the year after that... Another national characteristic: we do not let our traditions go lightly.

Taking part is for the foolhardy – but it’s a heck of a thing to witness; and well worth the trip from Buckland Court.

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Jonathan Broom
Author: Jonathan Broom

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