The Sporting Bazaar – Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Competition

On a hillside near the edge of the Cotswolds, competitors race down 90 yards of steep decline, chasing a delicious wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. This is one of the world’s most absurd displays of sport, and perhaps one of the most dangerous as well. This British springtime passion is notoriously precarious, causing many broken bones. The racers do not so much run down the hill as they do flip, somersault, and tumble across the racing plane, arms outstretched reaching for a fleeting disc of cheese. At the bottom of the hill, human-wranglers attempt to soften the landing of the racing lunatics by catching them. The event is a spectacle. Enthralled spectators travel far and wide to view the rough and tumble start to finish.Rumors abound as to the origins of the strange competition. Some say that it began as a pagan ritual. Others persist that the event has its origins in Roman Times. I do not know the truth about the birthplace of this oddball event, but must say that this festival of the absurd is a sight to behold.

The event takes place annually on the “Late Spring Break Holiday Monday” (last Monday in May) in Gloucester, England. While entrant safety is an issue, the “official” competition was actually canceled last year due to popularity, not injury concerns. The cancellation did little to stop the cheese from rolling as loyal fans and competitors held an “unofficial” event on the last Monday of May. This year’s event has yet to be canceled or announced, but will likely go on, as it has for many many years. This website is a pretty exhaustive resource for all your cheese wheel racing inquiries. To reach the event, travel to Gloucester by train from London.

flickr image via Hauggen

1,000 year-old turd goes on display

The Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery has a truly crappy new exhibition.

A 1,000 year-old piece of feces has people lining up to visit the English museum. It was originally found in 1991 and dates to Anglo-Saxon times. When it was recently put on display, curators were surprised at its popularity and now plan to make it part of its permanent display.

The turd has mineralized and has no smell. Mineralized crap, scientifically known as coprolites, are actually not that rare. Dinosaur coprolites are found quite frequently, like the one pictured here from Canada. For a time in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, coprolites were even mined for their high phosphate content. Human coprolites are less common and are important for what they can reveal about ancient diet and parasites.

The Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. It traces local history from the age of the dinosaurs up to the present day. Artifacts include a beautifully preserved Celtic mirror, a Roman city wall, and a medieval backgammon game that is the world’s oldest complete set.

Photo courtesy United States Geological Survey.

Weirdest festivals from around the world

Seven years ago, when I became engaged to my now-husband, Marcus, I took him back home with me to Trinidad & Tobago to meet my parents for the first time, as well as participate in my country’s legendary Carnival. On Carnival Tuesday, as we were dancing in the streets, I said to him smugly:

“See how lucky you are to marry me? You get to visit my country and enjoy fabulous festivals!”

“Ah yes,” he agreed in his English accent, “but one day soon, I’ll take you back to my dad’s home in Gloucester, where we can go to the Cheese-Rolling Festival!”

I looked at him strangely, and attributed his odd response to the hot sun. Cheese-rolling festival? Jeez. Clearly, he needed to lay off the rum.

Turns out, the Gloucester Cheese-Rolling Festival is quite famous: according to, “In a logic that defies reason, participants of this festival race down a vertiginous hill in pursuit of a 7.8-pound roll of cheese.”


Amazingly, this isn’t even the weirdest festival out there — you can check out some of the other oddball festivals around the world here. And let it be said now, I’m heaving a big sigh of relief that my Marcus is from a small town in England, rather than a small town in Spain, where revelers at one particular festival “parade around town and whip the townspeople, while a cow masquerader runs amok in the crowd.”


Love from London: The best pub in Britain

As you well know, the Brits take their pubs very seriously, so nobody should be surprised that they actually vote for the best pub in the country every year. The judges say the competition “analyzes all the criteria that makes a good pub – including the quality of the beer, atmosphere, décor, customer service, clientele mix and value for money.”

According to the Times Online, the The Old Spot Inn in Dursley, Gloucestershire, a 100-year-old inn has won the 2008 Pub of the Year award from the Campaign for Real Ale, “despite having no juke box, pool table, fruit machine or theme.” Fruit machine or theme, I love that.

You can actually watch the video to get a feel for the atmosphere here, but I’ll tell you – when it comes to pub crawling, virtual reality doesn’t really come close to the real thing. We’ll have to wait for some sort of “Third Life” before we can actually enjoy a virtual beer.