The cheese has been estimated to reach speeds of up to 70mph on its journey down the hill. Humans, being decidedly less aerodynamic, fail to reach such spectacular speeds - but what they lack in speed they more than make up for in terms of bouncing and (occasionally) broken or sprained limbs.
Some footage from the 2012 event illustrates the simple principle - the cheese's 2 second head start and prodigious speed outmatching its human pursuers by some distance.
Arguably, the 2008 event was more spectacular still - observe the action around the 2:00 minute mark!
Like many such pursuits, the origin of cheese-rolling is obscure. Most official sources carefully place it as dating from the 19th century but some believe it has its roots in an older, pagan tradition.
The state - ever suspicious and censorious of spontaneous human activities - has tried in recent years to bring the event under the official auspices of regulation and health and safety concerns. In 1997, no fewer than 33 injuries were sustained - leading to the cancellation of the event in 1998 and fitful attempts to regulate it ever since. Trying to do things 'properly' in 2010, the organisers found themselves employing stewards, publishing a time table and having to charge £20 for tickets to cover the costs of insurance, traffic management and so on. The massive outcry prompted many to fear that the tradition would find itself consigned to the history books - and the official organisers withdrew in the face of local hostility.
Thankfully the event spontaneously returned in 2011 and 2012 without official management.
Apparently annoyed at their failure to quash the revelry the constabulary warned the provider of the cheese that by providing a cheese she could be considered a de-facto 'organiser' of the event and thus legally liable for injuries and any criminal matters arising from the event. A spokesman for Gloucester police laid down the stricture in the typical mouthful-of-bread verbal style that passes for official communication in these benighted times:
"We feel it is important that those who, by law, could be constituted as organisers of the event that they are aware of the responsibilities that come with it so that they can make an informed decision about their participation. In this case that person could then attract the legal liability issues that come with hosting the cheese-rolling."
Despite such ponderous warnings, the inhabitants of the area - and hundreds who visit from far afield - have shown a remarkable facility for cocking a snook at such petty officialdom and taking part in this cherishably bonkers recreational pursuit regardless. (in fact, a HSE report on the rolling in 2009 primly noted that "Overall, the planning and execution of this event was of a high quality with the management of risk taken very seriously. The integration of organisation, planning and service delivery that retained the traditional thrill of the event was a key aspect in its safe delivery").
There are five rolls of the cheese - with a maximum of 15 competitors in pursuit each time. The winner is the person who reaches the cheese at the bottom first. We hope the event continues, regardless of the pettifogging nincompoopery of those who would wish us all to be rolled in cotton wool before stepping out of the door.
Pleasingly, despite Plod's attentions, the event took place in 2013 as planned - with a foam substitute cheese. An estimated 3000 people turned up to watch various races - the first of which was won by Amerian Kenny Rackers, who travelled over 4000 miles specifically to take part. Kenny: a nation salutes you. Enjoy the highlights below:
You can visit the 'official' website of the cheese rolling event at http://www.cheese-rolling.co.uk/