Residents of all ages go bonkers for conkers

MORE than 300 competitors, armed with conkers, smashed and bashed their way through the ninth annual Conker Championships on Hampstead Heath.

The popular contest was held on the bandstand as part of the Heath Heritage Day celebrations – which encourage local people to join festivities on the open space.

The event, on Sunday (October 10) also saw welly wanging, morris dancers, bee keepers and sheep from the Kentish Town City Farm on the Heath.

The celebrations culminated with the conker competition at 3pm when players thrashed it out to win the prize of a coveted golden conker in one of the four age categories.

The Mayor of Camden, Councillor Jonathan Simpson, who attended the event said: “The image of 300 people battling it out – and the sheer look of concentration on their faces – will stay with me for a long time. It was great fun.

“I think people are attracted to the tournament because they associate conkers with their childhood. Hampstead Heath looked particularly gorgeous on Sunday.”

Paul Maskell, the leisure and events manager at Hampstead Heath, said that this was the biggest and best competition yet.

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“We strung 250 conkers and they were all used and even more people turned up to watch,” he said. “The Guinness Book of Records rang me a couple of days before the event but it was too short notice for us to try and break the World Record of the largest number of people playing conkers. I think we came close to the 295 record though, so we’re already thinking about our 10th contest next year.”

Meanwhile, at Highgate Primary School, conkers were back in vogue this week after William Dean, the headteacher, actively encouraged children to take part in conker games.

His invitation to pupils came after one child asked if it was “illegal” to play conkers at school.

Mr Dean said: “When I was at primary school, playing with conkers was an essential part of autumn. The ritual of soaking conkers in vinegar, then baking them in the oven is one we’d like to reintroduce to a new generation of children.

“The children have been very enthusiastic and arrived with their freshly strung conkers, and have been playing beautifully.”