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How to conker London: go nuts for the Hampstead Heath Conker Championship

By Kate Solomon

Going nuts in London this autumn? Kate Solomon has all you need to know.

I wouldn't mind conquering London, I've got a few changes in mind...

Er, I think you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick. We're talking about conkering with a K. Not so much overthrowing Boris as whacking horse chestnuts against each other.

Oh, conkers. Aren't they for kids?

Actually, nostalgic adults are more into conkering than kids, who favour iPads and PlayStations - although the World Conker Championship held every year near Peterborough does have a category for juniors.

Imagine going to Peterborough for a conker competition...

It would be a bit much. How about Hampstead Heath instead? Londoners get together at Parliament Hill every year to determine who within the M25 is best at swinging one conker on a string at another conker on a string.

Is that really all there is to it? Something tells me there might be an overly complex set of rules to adhere to.

Sort of. The point is to destroy your opponent's conker while keeping yours intact and you get three strikes each in turns to do it. But there are all kinds of regional variations and regulations to do with getting the strings tangled - and that's before we consider the thorny ethical issue of nut-hardening.

I beg your pardon?

Some people give their conkers a helping hand by soaking them in vinegar or varnishing, baking and freezing them. Roald Dahl recommended ageing conkers in a dark place for a year. One particularly dedicated enthusiast said you should let a pig eat it and then pick your conker out of its poo. The Campaign for Real Conkers (which genuinely exists) is against this sort of conker doping and itís not allowed in the World Championships. Anything goes on Parliament Hill, though - you can bring your own aged, vinegary, varnished nut or you can use a one of the clean conkers provided.

Is the winner crowned William the Conkerer?

No. Unless their name is already William, in which case: still no.

In Spain do they call them 'conkistadors'?

Well, now you're just being silly.

I concur.

Please stop.

Okay, I'm somewhere approaching interested. Where can I get conkers in London?

Mainly in the big parks. There are loads of horse chestnut trees at Osterley Park and Polesden Lacey or stay central and head to Green Park or Hyde Park (around the Serpentine and towards Lancaster Gate). Wandsworth Common is good, too. Or if you're feeling lazy you can buy them from eBay.

Hmm, eBay, you say... What kind of conker is best?

Reigning World Conker Champion John Doyle recommends picking a little, tough one. As for tactics: 'Don't tire yourself out attacking,' he says. 'Let them do all the hard work wearing their big conker down bashing your small nobbly one. And when you win, don't let anyone tell you it was down to luck.'

Hampstead Heath Conker Championship Parliament Hill, NW3 1TH. Oct 4, 2.30pm- 5pm. Free.

Not keen on conkers? Read our bloggers' picks of the best things to do in London this Autumn.

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