The midday traffic was backed up for miles, cars were parked on every spot imaginable and the queues of people setting off to climb Cooper’s Hill stretched as far as the eye could see, but after much huffing and puffing up the infamously steep incline the whine of the ambulances soon indicated the opening of the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake 2007 had officially commenced.
Dedicated supporters of the treacherous downhill sport arrived in the early hours to snag a prime viewing position near the finish line, while the rest of the 3,000 plus crowd squeezed their way along the orange safety fence for a glimpse of the fast-paced action.
Once the master of ceremonies Rob Seex gave the signal, the first of five 8lb Double Gloucester cheeses was rolled – followed closely behind by a group of brave (and some would say reckless) racers. The crowd’s collective gasps and groans could be heard for miles throughout the afternoon as an almost constant stream of competitors tumbled spectacularly down the 200metre course which has a perilous 1:1 gradient in places.
There were five official races held on the day, with the fiercely fought Double Gloucester cheeses largely going to winners who had perfected their ‘technique’ in previous years. Jason Crowther, Aaron Walder, Alan Morris and Chris Anderson were all first to reach the bottom in the men’s races. The women’s race was won for the first time by New Zealander Jemima Bullock.
Up to 20 impromptu groups also took the downhill challenge after watching the official events, providing more breathtaking plunges, flips and somersaults to please the thrill-seeking spectators. Some downhill racers just tried to stay on their feet, while it was clear others had planned to sprint to the finish line whatever the risk.
Tactics ranged from the dainty shimmying on the backside manoeuvre resulting in mud stains to the fast paced, all out, head over heels tumbling that resulted in surprisingly few casualties – with only 20 minor injuries treated by St John Ambulance on the day. Twisted ankles, broken wrists and bloody cuts were all regular sightings on the bedraggled competitors as they limped, smiling, back to the crowds.
With showers scheduled most people opted for a weather-wise combination of wellys and waterproofs, but some took the party atmosphere as an opportunity to dress as caped crusaders, SAS commandos, babies in nappies and cows complete with udders on the Spring Bank Holiday. While most didn’t mind the afternoon drizzle, some revelled in the thick mud and pond-like puddles – wading through with bare feet in a bid to get a little closer to the Cheese Rolling action.
Australian and New Zealand accents resounded through the crowds, Canadian television crews were filming a show and a Japanese TV star took a few tumbles before coming second in one race – giving one of Gloucestershire’s biggest annual events a real international flavour.
Gloucester Cheese Rolling 2007 could have been a wash out, but proved to be a glorious, action-packed day out whatever the weather.
Monday 28 May 2007