THE SCOTTISH Conkers Championships were saved just two days before they went ahead in Peebles on Saturday.
Past champion Maurice Hurrell stepped in to organise the much-loved event last Thursday - and then won the contest he helped save!
Usual organisers Borders Forest Trust admitted defeat last Tuesday before Saturday’s sixth contest after staff and other contacts could not find enough local conkers for competitors because of the bad summer.
But Maurice ‘The Conquerer’ Hurrell and his brother Ady ‘One Shot’ Hurrell, well known faces in the conker world and the holders of 13 championships between them, decided they would see what they could do.
Maurice said last week: “When I heard on the radio that the championships were cancelled owing to a lack of Scottish conkers I was really disappointed. My brother Ady is bringing up conkers from Peterborough and we thought - why not see if we can help organise it? So we spoke with Chris Sawers who co-ordinates Tweed Valley Forest Festival and the outcome is The Unofficial Scottish Conker Championships this year.”
But the hiccups were not yet over for Ady got stuck on a train in the north of England and didn’t get to Peebles in time.
In stepped Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) Selkirk office’s Iain Laidlaw who’d attended a forestry event in Buckinghamshire last Thursday and asked his contacts for conkers and conker hot spots. He returned to Peebles by Friday lunchtime with nearly 400, some from former FCS Peebles man, Mike Bentley, now in Herefordshire and, thanks to threaders invented by Wooplaw’s Bob Fleet and a squad of volunteers, the conkers had strings attached in time for the Saturday lunchtime event on Tweed Green.
Tweed Valley Forest Festival organiser Chris Sawers said: “I’m not sure how many people actually played but it was a really busy session. Everyone had a fantastic time and it was a really good laugh.”
Mr Hurrell won the adult category while nine-year-old Calla Young from Earlston won the junior category and Finlay Durkin, 10, from Peebles took the youth title.
Other events of the festival which started at the weekend included the new Giant Nights Out at Glentress, muddy fun for young children with Wellybooters, and on Tuesday an FCS walk and talk about low impact forest management and new woodland in the Tweed Valley attracted 35 locals, professionals and enthusiasts.
Ms Sawers said: “The festival is going fantastically well so far. I think we had the busiest weekend we’ve ever had and this is our seventh festival. I think it was because of the off, on again of the conker festival and the weather was fabulous.
“The Woodmarket was superb. In addition to our usual stallholders, we had other people with fabulous products and they all had a great time.
“The Giant Night Out at Glentress was a sell out - I was there on Saturday and loved it - and all the feedback I’ve had is ‘wow, we want more of this’.”
Tomorrow and Saturday’s Giant Nights Out at Bowhill will be 40-minute guided walks with a story teller and other performers through the estate’s forest which will be transformed by special lighting and sound effects, to the giant’s head.
The new nights out are the culmination of the Giants in the Forest project, launched earlier in the year by Edinburgh-based puppeteers Vision Mechanics when they built enormous heads out of willow and hessian and installed them in sites round Scotland, including Glentress and Bowhill.
Project partners Eastgate Theatre and Bowhill have staged outdoor events encouraging people to visit the huge heads and now giant flowers, fairy bowers, flags, banners, leaves and a huge foot are alongside them.
Ms Sawers said: “I’m hoping the people who couldn’t get tickets for the Giant Nights Out at Glentress will be able to tickets for Bowhill and that they have as much fun as the people attending the Glentress
The popular one-hour Ghosts of Traquair tours take place tomorrow and on Saturday and the following Friday and Saturday, and there will be Halloween celebrations from 11am on Sunday at Wooplaw Community Woodlands near Stow.
For further information about the festival visit www.forest-festival.com