North London has celebrated the first all-female finals at the Hampstead Heath conker championships.
The annual championships took place on Sunday 6 October at the Parliament Hill bandstand. Now in its 18th year, the event was attended by around 250 hardened conker warriors.
The morning was presided over by Paul Maskell, dressed in a tracksuit, top hat and necklace made of conkers. Usually, Maskell works as a leisure and events manager at the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath. But every year Maskell transforms himself into the Conkermeister, a man learnèd in the art of conker warfare.
With a cry from the Conkermeister of “Let the games begin!”, the championships kicked off at 2:30pm under a sunny sky with scattered clouds. Proceedings quickly descended into something of a mêlée with players apparently randomly swinging their conker strings at one another.
The atmosphere was one of wholesome excitement. Irena Arambasic, an education casual ranger at the Heath, said the championship is “the highlight of the year,” joking that “it’s bigger than Brexit”. She claims in jest that her conker enthusiasm is putting a strain on her marriage. “Where did I go wrong?” asked her husband after returning home to find 220 conker strings laid out on their living room floor.
As the afternoon progressed, some semblance of order was gradually imposed upon the conker carnage. Soon it was time for the age-category finals, a series of one-on-one battles to decide who would win a “no-expenses spared”, highly rare, coveted golden conker. Oohs and ahs went round the circle with each strike of the conker, sternly refereed by a man in a green fleece.
The championship culminated in the over-18s final, described by Maskell as “the main event of our conker spectacular of Hampstead”. Finalists were instructed that Mr. Maskell wanted “a nice cool, clean fight. No bite marks, no scratch marks, just clean conkers with a bit of oomph.”
Tensions were running high. The finalists, Maddie and Sian, battled for several minutes, and appeared evenly matched. But at around 3:30pm, Maddie was pronounced the champion of this year’s games.