Something Else

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The Independent Culture
From the outskirts of Gloucester, Cooper's Hill stands out as a grassy scar on the Cotswold escarpment. The slope is usually fenced off to control erosion, but each Spring Bank Holiday Monday it is opened for the annual cheese rolling: a series of heart-stopping downhill races in pursuit of an 8 lb Double Gloucester. In its heyday, cheese rolling was the highlight of a Whit Monday Wake, which also included contests such as 'chattering for a bladder of snuff by old women' and 'grinning for cakes'. Although the Wake was suppressed for rowdyism in Victorian times, cheese rolling continued uninterrupted.

Proceedings are conducted by the Master of Ceremonies, resplendent in white smock coat and top hat. Spectators are ushered to the flanks of the slope and urged to keep alert - the inattentive can fall victim to a rogue cheese. Contestants sit nervously on the brink of the hill, primed with warm cider. The countdown begins. ' One to be ready, two to be steady, three to prepare' (the cheese is launched) ' . . . and four to be off'. After a few yards, the cheese parts company with the hillside, accelerating unpredictably. Protected in a wooden casing, it weathers the descent better than some competitors. Swathes of netting and strategically placed straw bales mark the finish.

There are normally four races (one for women) open to all. The winners get the Double Gloucester. But be wary before hurtling cheese-wards. Last year's casualties included two neck injuries and a couple of fractures.

Racing starts 6pm 30 May, Cooper's Hill, Brockworth, Gloucester.

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