Shoe lace or piece of string, which did you use?

I can remember the intense concentration of making a hole through a chestnut, focusing on getting it straight, right through the centre to preserve the integrity of the nut, to not crack the outer shell and so make the best possible conker for playing with, to take into a playground battle with others.

Childhood memories. Sore knuckles from someone mistakenly – or intentionally missing the swing and catching you. Dodging spatter as a conker shattered under a blow or from making one.

Autumn brought a seasonal game to school life and a hubbub of activity in the playground. Tales would be swapped of winning conker achievements, recipes to harden a conker into a prize winning gem, soaking, baking, polishing, drying, when to pick, where to pick from, it was a marvellous distraction and brought highs and lows of emotion; it was part of growing up.

It has been decades since I last played a game of conkers but not a year passes when I don’t think back to the fun we had at school; of times spent at my grandfather’s side making, learning, playing and sharing tales of conker derring-do.

There is a world conker championship held each year, near to beautiful Oundle in Northamptonshire. It takes place upon the second Sunday of October in the village of Southwick.

What else of conkers?

They are a different species to edible ‘sweet’ chestnuts and horse chestnuts, conkers, are mildly toxic to humans and animals; don’t eat your conker!

They are popular for their large pink or white flowers and the mature trees are wonderful providers of shade.

Chestnut is a much sought after wood prized for its strength and durability but again that is ‘sweet chestnut’. Horse chestnut has a tendency to weakness and so is rarely used. Interestingly it is absorbent and favoured for making fruit racks and storage trays where it can prevent rotting.

In recent years the delightful appearance of the trees has been marred by leaf miner. Cameraria Ohridella the larvae of a moth known in the Balkans, one that has spread through Europe. The trees survive infestation but it does spoil their looks.

Safety Issues!

Please note: Some schools banned conkers! Health and Safety challenges, nut allergies, shortage of goggles? Please be careful, apply common sense and don’t put yourself or anyone else at risk.

When did you last play a game of conkers?

Whenever it was and especially if you have never played, take up our October Make Life Special Challenge and give conkers a go!

PS String, I was never allowed to spoil a shoe lace.

The rules for playing conkers

World Conker Championship

Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner

Overview of horse chestnut trees in Britain

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