Along with hundreds of others, Christopher Anderson yesterday braved the torrential rain of a Gloucestershire hillside to take part in a bizarre local custom: he ran down a near-vertical slope in pursuit of a round of cheese. Victorious, he was the first to seize it. But, in doing so, he picked up more than just a malodorous dairy product. The muddy, frenetic some might say downright lethal conditions on that hill eventually saw Anderson carted away on a spinal board by medics, following suspected injury to his back.
The 19-year-old was competing in the annual Cheese Rolling Festival at Cooper's Hill, a series of races in which competitors from all over the world dash down a grassy incline (said to be a gradient of 1:1) in pursuit of a 7.5lb double Gloucester. Anderson's pal, Shane Beard, from nearby Brockworth, who also took part, said: "The conditions were horrific, you just have to get your head down and hope for the best. Chris went flying he is completely fearless but I hope he hasn't hurt himself."
Anderson is hardly the first victim of the cheesy contest. The highest incidence of injuries was in 1997, when at least 33 picked up sore backs and grazed knees.
The hazardous conditions have in the past forced the cancellation of the event, which has drawn locals and international cheese fans since Roman times. Its origins are thought to lie in a heathen spring festival. Thousands of spectators watched the races yesterday, including a film crew from Brazil, along with dairy lovers from Australia, New Zealand and Japan, all eager to join the roll to victory. And the winner's trophy? A handmade artisan cheese by Diana Smart, of Churcham. Which, no doubt, will make a triumphal treat for Christopher Anderson, once he is discharged from hospital.