On Saturday 24th October 2015 Borders Forest Trust staff and volunteers (thank you folks – you all did a brilliant job!) ran the 9th Scottish Conker Championship – an ever popular/ well attended attraction in the fabulous annual Tweed Valley Forest Festival.
You would honestly never believe how serious this competition is, with many participants returning every year from near and far! We even get former Conker World Champions coming to compete!
A key challenge in the lead up to the 2015 competition was that our Scottish horse chestnut trees were very, very sparse in this year, after the bumper crop of ‘stonkers’ we had in 2014 (a mega mast year!). But, thanks to some of our wonderful supporters in the south, we were able to get enough top quality conkers for everyone. Phew!
Apart from having to organise courier services for conker deliveries this year, the run up to the competition involves quite honestly, the most random activities of my annual work calendar! With evenings spent: sifting through hundreds of conkers (we only use the very best large, round, fresh specimens - we can’t use any mis-shaped, damaged or dried out ones); then, comes an evening of cleaning and polishing conkers (often required if they’ve been picked up in a muddy field!) –); TOP TIP (passed on from the World Champions) – the best way to keep your conkers fresh is to store them in water! And lastly, sourcing shoe laces, and a few hours of drilling and stringing!
This year’s Championships attracted a good number of competitors, but far fewer than we’ve had in previous years – loads of adults, but not so many children (I think that the nasty weather in the morning was the main factor!).
Players use horse chestnuts prepared and provided by BFT and compete in four categories - Junior, Youth, Adult and Rogue. The Rogue category allows participants to bring their own conker, treated in any way they want…. And believe me; our participants get really creative with this! We’ve had massive French conkers coated in yacht varnish; old skool – pickled and baked versions; small, shrivelled ancient relic ones; and, a relatively new innovation is to smother your conker in E45 moisturising cream. This year we even had a conker that had been dipped in concrete!! I should mention at this point – there is still no standout, clear winner in any of the possible treatments (2015 saw a gnarly, aged specimen win over the concrete dipped one!)
The 2015 winners were: Junior – Jack Craigen (from East Lothian)
Youth – Stuart Head (from Oban)
Adult – Steve Whitehorn (from Preston, Duns)
Rogue – Iain Laidlaw (Forestry Commission Scotland, Borders)
Next year it will be the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Conker Championships! I’ll need to start planning for the biggest and BEST event yet! Come along and have a go…….. Imagine holding the coveted title of ‘Scottish Conker Champion’ and having one of these trophies on your mantel piece!
Anna Craigen, Community & Education Officer BFT