Big cheeses roll down hill - not many hurt hy

LAST YEAR, under cover of darkness, a single "cheese of liberty" was released by enthusiasts of the ancient custom of cheese rolling in Gloucestershire, defying a ban imposed because of the numbers maimed and injured.

Yesterday, safely behind newly installed netting similar to that used in downhill skiing, more than 2,000 turned out to witness proof, if proof were needed, that Britain is still home to the most glorious of eccentrics.

About 100 locals gathered at the 1 in 2 slope on Coopers Hill, between Cheltenham and Stroud, to chase four 8lb Double Gloucester cheeses down the infamous 300-yard slope and this year, apart from the odd bruise and grassburn, there was not one serious casualty.

On advice from police and the Health and Safety Executive the race was shifted to noon in the hope that competitors would be largely sober. Two years ago, when the race was last ran, some 27 competitors and spectators collected injuries ranging from high-impact bruising caused by runaway cheeses to broken limbs as "pursuit" became little more than "falling down a steep hill".

The race, a custom thought to date back to Roman times and described variously as a fertility rite or to ward off evil spirits, was won by 30-year-old Stephen Brain, of Gloucester. He said: "I've been in this for 15 years, on and off, and it is great that it is back after last year's was cancelled. The trick is to try and stay on your feet."

Around the country, the May bank holiday weekend has been an excuse to indulge in ancient and recently re- vived or simply invented rituals.

In Kingsteignton, Devon, the medieval rite of ram roasting, forerunner to the patio barbecue, got under way yesterday to ensure there was no drought for the coming year.

And the weekend had already seen the first Yorkshire Pudding race, where children rowed across a farm pond near Malton, North Yorkshire, in 3ft diameter Yorkshire Pud rafts fashioned from egg, flour, milk - and polyurethane paint.

Elsewhere, in Wanlockhead, north of Dumfries, more than 100 prospectors beat a path to the Museum of Lead Mining for the gold prospecting contest.

And tomorrow British inventiveness is again showcased when Colin Fallows, 49, will attempt to break the British land speed record at Elvington airport near York in a hand-built car powered by a jet engine he bought second-hand from the Red Arrows.

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