Conkers may have been courting controversy elsewhere in the country as school children are forced to wear safety goggles before engaging in the traditional autumn pastime but at Westonbirt Arboretum hundreds turned out to show they were just bonkers about conkers and they didn't mind taking home a few bruised knuckles at the end of the day. Sam Bond reports.

They came, saw and conkered at Westonbirt Arboretum on Saturday as the tree attraction hosted a day dedicated to the humble horse chestnut and other seeds.

Youngsters and the bigger kids came to try their luck at the conker tournament and as well as smashing the nostalgic nuts to smithereens.

"It was a seed gathering spectacular," said Ben Oliver, the arboretum's education manager.

"We had lots of activities based around seeds with arts and crafts as well as games." Almost 400 took part in the fun which included such madcap woodland favourites as 'chip the cone' where contestants had to hit pine cones through holes with a golf club.

There was also a conker can shy and a competition to see who could get a helicopter-seed to float the furthest.

Visitors were also encouraged to find their way round a seed inspired nature trail and find the answers to a quirky quiz.

"We picked out a trail that took in the autumn colour but also focused on trees with interesting seeds or interesting stories that related to their seeds," said Mr Oliver.

"The seed spectacular was a family event to tie in with a family learning week we've been having here," he said.

"We had a very good spread of ages from children as young as one or two trying the art activities through to older teenagers taking part in the trail and enjoying smashing conkers to pieces."

There was, unsurprisingly, no shortage of conkers to smash. "We had volunteers collecting them beforehand," said Mr Oliver.

"There are hundreds left so hopefully we will give them away to visiting schools." As well as taking part in the seed spectacular visitors enjoyed the first glimpses of this year's autumn colour.

"It's looking quite nice already and is coming on," said Mr Oliver. "But it's not yet at its absolute peak. "I would say it will be at its best in the next week or two but it's very difficult to call."

CONKER FACTFILE The most successful untreated conker ever recorded was an incredible 5,000 in 1954. Experts suspect it was actually an ivory or tagua nut which look very similar but are much harder than the ordinary conker.

During the two World Wars children were recruited to collect conkers which were used in the manufacture of explosives in munitions factories.

The Guinness Book of Records does not record a category for the largest collection of conkers for fear of it leading trees to be damaged.

In Puerto Rico a game similar to conkers is played with the seeds of the carob tree.

There are many ways to harden conkers, such as leaving them to dry for a year, pickling them in vinegar, baking them in the oven or varnishing them. In modern contests some people will stoop as low as to inject them with hard resin.