The thrill of finding a gleaming conker is one of the many joys of autumn, for children and adults alike!

The traditional game of conkers was first recorded on the Isle of Wight in 1848. Since then, generations of youngsters have eagerly awaited conker season when they can hunt for worthy contenders to take into battle. Here, we’ll tell you when conkers are ready for collecting and give you some pointers to help you win your conkers games.

What tree do conkers come from?

Conkers are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. This attractive tree was brought to Britain from south-east Europe 400 years ago and became popular with landscape gardeners who planted them in the grounds of stately homes. Today, you can find horse chestnut trees in parks, gardens, streets and village greens across the UK.

Did you know?

In some areas, conkers are called cheggers, cheesers (flat-sided ones) and obblyonkers!

When is conker season and when are conkers ready?

Conkers ripen in autumn and fall to the ground during September and October. Look for them scattered around the base of horse chestnut trees. The prickly outer cases will often burst open revealing the shiny, brown seeds inside.

If you’re collecting for a game of conkers, it’s best to gather ripe ones from the ground. Conkers attached to trees might not be ready and could still be soft in the middle – not good for a conker fight.

Did you know? Spotting your first ripe conker is important for science! We gather records of the changing seasons to track the effects of climate change on trees and wildlife. Discover how your family can help us on our Nature's Calendar website.

How to choose a conker

To be a conker champion, you’ll need a nut that’s tough to crack! In fact, it’s worth gathering a handful so you have some spares.

Look for freshly fallen conkers that don’t have splits, dents or soft spots – the harder and rounder the better. To check for duds, place your conkers in a bowl of water. The best ones will sink, showing they’re solid and firm.

How to harden conkers for a fight

True conker enthusiasts say it’s cheating to harden conkers artificially. But if you’re looking to give your conkers a boost before going into battle, there are plenty of tricks you can try:

  • Leave your conkers in a cool, dry place for a year. Many think this is the best way of hardening conkers, but you have to wait a long time until they’re ready. However, if you’ve got some tucked away in a cupboard from last year, dig them out and see how they fare!
  • Bake your conkers in the oven. Two hours at 120C should be enough to harden them. Remember to let them cool before playing.
  • Soak your conkers in vinegar for a few days, then bake as above.
  • Paint your conkers with clear nail varnish.

Before you start playing, you’ll need to thread your conkers onto string. With an adult’s help, carefully make a clean hole through the middle of each conker using a skewer or screwdriver. Cut pieces of string about 50cm long and thread them through the holes. Tie a knot at both ends of the string so the conkers don’t fall off.

Bonkers about conkers

The World Conker Championships are held in Northampton every October. Thousands of spectators gather to watch the tournament, with players coming from across the globe!

How to play conkers

Conkers is a game for two players, each with their own conker. Toss a coin to see who strikes first.

  1. Wrap the loose end of the string around your hand twice (there should be about 25cm of string between your hand and the conker).
  2. One player dangles their conker at arm’s length, keeping it as still as possible.
  3. The striker holds the string of their own conker and takes a swing at their opponent’s conker to try and bash it. If the attacking player misses, they have two more chances before it’s their opponent’s turn to strike.
  4. Keep taking turns until one of the conkers smashes and you have a winner!

A new conker is called a ‘none-er’ and when it wins its first fight it becomes a ‘one-er’. If it beats another, it becomes a ‘two-er’ and so on. In some areas, winning conkers gain the points of the losing conker. So if a ‘two-er’ beats a ‘six-er’, it wins a point for the victory plus the six points from the conker it beat, making it a ‘nine-er’.

Other things to do with conkers

Whether you collect them, count them, or craft with them, there are endless ways kids can enjoy conkers.

A conker collection is a joy in itself and you can have lots of fun going on conker hunts, displaying your treasured finds and swapping them with others. Conkers also make marvellous maths aids – counting, sorting and weighing is much more interesting when you can get hands-on. And budding artists can use them to make natural sculptures, models or paintings.

Learn more about conkers