People get ready to chase the cheese
Roll that cheese in 2006!
It's Gloucestershire's craziest event and there are plenty of daring souls who are willing to risk life and limb to chase after a big Double Gloucester cheese at Cooper's Hill ...
Of all Britain's weird and wonderful customs and traditions, the annual cheese rolling races at Cooper's Hill in Gloucestershire must be among the strangest - and certainly the most spectacular.
It takes place every year on Cooper's Hill near Brockworth in the last weekend of May, and it sees scores of men and women hurtle 200 yards down a near vertical slope in pursuit of a seven-pound Double Gloucester cheese.
Thousands more gather to watch the remarkable spectacle which has been happening almost every year for at least 200 years, and it is believed, possibly many centuries more.
It's not just men who want a piece of the cheese
A expert's view on Cheese Rolling
Retired teacher Jean Jefferies lives on the slopes of Cooper's Hill itself and is writing a book on the history of the cheese rolling races. She says:
"It seems that originally the event took place at midsummer. At some point it was moved to Whit Monday and in 1967 it was moved again, with the bank holiday to the last Monday in May."
The origins of the event may lie buried in history, but theories abound. Romans are known to have inhabited the area and remains of an Ancient Britons' fort stand at the top of the hill. Jean says:
"The ceremonies may have evolved from those of the Phoenicians who are thought to have visited Britain on trading expeditions in about 1000 BC, or maybe the Romans, who were the first to hurl missiles down the one-in-two slope. Or perhaps ancient fertility rites are the origin of the festivities."
Cheese rolling - the basics
The age-old event is presided over by a Master of Ceremonies who wears a traditional white overall, old beribboned top hat and a large floral buttonhole.
A guest 'roller' releases the cheese at his command: "One to be ready, two to be steady, three to prepare - and FOUR to be off".
In the past the race day has also included a fair that took place at the top of the hill, with 'grinning through horse-collars' (also known as 'gurning), shin-kicking and wrestling.
Thrills and spills
Past cheese-rolling races have not been without incident. Safety fears halted the 1998 event after the previous year's event ended in mayhem with 18 competitors and several onlookers injured.
One spectator had to be taken to hospital with head injuries after trying to dodge a bouncing cheese and toppling down the hillside himself.
Since then spectators - the event regularly attracts crowds of 4,000 or more - have had to watch the event from a safe distance behind a safety barrier, and today organisers have to employ a security firm to control the crowds and private medical team to rescue and treat casualties.
Craig Brown won the 2000 race
How are the mighty fallen - Craig Brown won the 2000 race but retired after being hurt in the 2002 event.
Even past winners aren't immune to injury. Pub landlord Craig Brown, who won the event in 2000, decided to call it a day after suffering head injuries which needed hospital treatment in a terrifying tumble at the 2002 event. See the video of his fall as well as news reports of previous races at the top right of this page.
The only entry requirements are to turn up on the day complete with a reckless disregard for your own safety.
Nervous competitors have been known to down a pint or several to boost their courage beforehand - or perhaps to anaesthetise themselves in advance of the almost inevitable tumble on the treacherous course.
So what is the glittering prize for those who dare to risk life and limb on the perilous descent down a one-in-one gradient in parts?
The winner gets to keep the cheese they risked life and limb to chase after. Second and third to reach bottom usually win a cash prize. Despite the dangers, many competitors come back year after year.
Cheese Rolling 2006 @ Cooper's Hill