I came, I saw, I conkered

conkers from horse chestnut tree

Around the perimeter of our garden stand some huge horse chestnut trees that were probably planted a hundred years ago. From the kitchen table, we watch each year as the first green buds appear and the tree bursts into leaf and then the candle like spikes of blossom appear. Ignoring the lower branches where the leaves turn brown because the caterpillars of leaf-mining moth attack them, the trees in summer are a majestic sight providing shade and effectively screening that which lies behind.

Now that autumn is just around the corner, everything starts to drop from the horse chestnut trees. In the middle of the night, when all is quiet, conkers drop noisily onto the tin roof of the garage and bounce down. Walk under horse chestnut trees at this time of year and you’ll hear the thud as the conkers hit the grass. Just watch out that you don’t get hit on the head by a spiny cased conker plummeting downwards. Under the trees, conkers and their cases lie amongst the fallen leaves. Some cases fly open as they hit the ground, sending case and conker in opposite directions while others sit in the grass, slowly splitting to reveal the glossy mahogany coloured conker or sometimes two conkers inside.

Conkers can’t be eaten, they lose their shine almost overnight if you bring them inside and appear to have little practical use other than that for which they’re designed ie growing more horse chestnut trees. Some people swear that conkers placed strategically around a room prevent spiders or that a handful in your clothes will deter moths, but I’m not sure there’s any scientific evidence to back up these claims.

It seems that the only thing to do with conkers is to admire them where they fall or gather up a few and spend the evenings dangling a conker on the end of a piece of string while someone else tries to bash the hell out of it. I had hoped to show you my “conquering conker” (a 2-er because it had beaten two others) but Bill smashed it to smithereens last night. Never fear, I have another one ready to string up for tonight’s return match.

We country folk have simple pleasures.

You can find a detailed explanation of playing conkers here

30 thoughts on “I came, I saw, I conkered

  1. andreamynard says:

    I love your phrase ‘that which lies behind’ Anne – very Cold Comfort Farm! Almost as much as I love the image of you and Bill playing conkers of an evening. Wonderful!

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  2. sally says:

    Oh I had forgotten about conkers, I used to play with my brother and it was always a big deal about not flinching. My strongest memory is of sore knuckles.

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  3. Amy at love made my home says:

    Having been away for a couple of weeks I was so surprised to see how much the trees and especially the Horse Chestnuts had changed when I got back. Your photo of these conkers is lovely with all the different stages of them opening from their cases. x

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    • Anne Wheaton says:

      The leaves seem to suddenly change in the last week or so – we’ve been watching a tree in the distance that’s changed dramatically. Keep thinking I must walk across to find out what sort of tree it is.

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  4. rusty duck says:

    I’m sure I read somewhere that painting the conker with nail lacquer can improve your chances… the clear stuff that is supposed to toughen your nails up.. I never tried it mind.

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  5. thelandroverownerswife says:

    Hah! There is nothing stress free about conker playing!!! I remember the playground battles and the tense testosterone fueled posturing of young lads trying to be the best. Oh and the lengths they went to, to ensure that their conker was the best and strongest one on the playground, with dad and grandad checking on progress each evening, passing on conker strengthening tips …… oh and heaven forbid that their prize conker be beaten by a mere slip of a girl 🙂

    Come on! ‘Fess up! I’ll bet there has been fierce competition in the Wheaton household with no holds barred. Umm? Tis the only explanation for your battered finger 😉

    Seriously though, conkers are banned from the playgrounds these days, in these times of H&S and Injury Claim Lawyers. It really is a shame because, when all is said and done, it’s part of our heritage.

    Happy conkering Anne, we’re rooting for you 😀

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    • Anne Wheaton says:

      Smashing up the opponent’s conker certainly relieves stress! We played this evening just before supper and I don’t know if it was the gin I’d just drunk or the fact I had one eye on the cooker, but I kept missing and my conker whipped up and caught me on the knuckles about six times. Now have sore knuckles and finger. You’re right – it is a fierce competition, though it sounds as though your childhood games were far more competitive. Hope you thrashed them. Are they really banned from playgrounds now? How sad. In my day it was kerknackers that were banned.

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  6. Christina says:

    I always thought horse chestnut must have some uses but apparently not even the wood is much good. I do love the colour of conkers. We used to make animals with them, using sold toothpicks to stick them together. Conkers are rare in the city unfortunately, too many children for too few trees.

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  7. Annie says:

    I’m loving this image, and the one in the last post, which would make a lovely postcard. I’ve been out for more elderberries today, and couldn’t help but pocket a few conkers too. I wonder how the mister will respond if I challenge him to a match.

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  8. dianeskitchentable says:

    I remember there were horse chestnut trees at my parents house but I haven’t seen any in these parts for years. I’m afraid something got to them and they all died out. I never heard of this confers game but is that where the expression getting”conked on the head” came from?

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    • Anne Wheaton says:

      Our leaves are affected by a moth but fingers crossed they don’t get killed off. We’ve already lost all our elm trees to Dutch Elm Disease and the ash trees get Ash Dieback.
      I wonder if that’s where conked out comes from – makes sense.

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      • dianeskitchentable says:

        We lost all of our elms here from Dutch Elm disease too. Now there is some sort of insect infecting trees in nearby towns that is killing a lot of hardwoods. I forgt the name of the bug but when the city removes the trees they have to follow a special procedure to dispose of the trees and insects.

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  9. nanacathy2 says:

    We collect conkers every year. Everyone has one to keep in their pocket as a lucky conker, which you turn and twist if feeling anxious, going to an interview, having a hard time– it works! My families tradition.

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