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No. 10 Play conkers

Child with a handful of conkers in the grounds at Castle Coole, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
Child with a handful of conkers | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Playing conkers may well be one of the oldest games around. In some parts of the world it’s called ‘Kingers’. Get set for no. 10 of our ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’.


A conker is the seed (nut) of a horse chestnut tree. It lives inside a tough, spiky, green shell. When it’s ready, it drops from the tree and rolls away. Often the shell cracks and you can see the shiny, brown conker inside.

When you’re choosing your conker, it can be really interesting to compare the conker inside with the outer shell. Can you see and feel the contrast?

Choosing your conker

You need at least one conker for your game (ideally more in case the original cracks while playing). Try to find conkers that are not cracked, are symmetrical in shape and feel hard.

You can test the quality of your conker by putting it in a bowl of water. If it sinks to the bottom, it’s perfect for your game. If it floats, discard it as it is likely to crack easily.

How to make your champion conker

You can make your conker even stronger by soaking it in vinegar or by baking it in the oven for a couple of minutes (ask an adult for help with this bit).

Once the conker is cool (you can skip the baking part if you’re already outdoors), you need to make a hole through the centre with a pair of sharp scissors or a screwdriver (again, get an adult to help). Once you’ve made a hole all the way through, thread a piece of string or a shoelace, about 20-30cm long, through it and tie one end, so that the string doesn’t slip out again.

Children collecting conkers in the garden at Mottisfont, Hampshire, in autumn
Children collecting conkers in the garden at Mottisfont, Hampshire | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

How to play

Playing conkers can be as simple or as complicated as you like. In essence: whoever splits their opponent’s first, wins! It’s as simple as that. Why not challenge a friend to a game of conkers and see who can win the best of three games?

If you want to play a more complicated game, then you can introduce rules for what happens when your threads get twisted up and so on.

Getting to know your tree

Why not visit your horse chestnut tree at different times of year - it will look very different. In winter, it will be bare. In summer, you’ll see beautiful leaves spread like fingers and a candle of flowers in the centre. Perhaps you could collect its leaves and trace them. You could also try bark-rubbing.

When you’ve finished with your conker, you may want to bury it somewhere and see if it grows into a sapling (a young tree). If you help it along the way, then you’ll also be doing no. 41 of your ‘50 things’ - help a plant to grow.

Word of warning

Even though they can be cooked, do not try to eat your conkers. They are not the same as chestnuts and can be mildly poisonous (making you sick) if consumed.

Did you know that there are World Conker Championships held every year in the UK? They have categories for all ages. Maybe you’ll become expert enough to enter.

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