Today we bring you a blog about coracles, the small, rounded, lightweight boat of the sort traditionally used in Wales, and also in parts of the West Country, Ireland and Scotland. The word "coracle" is an English spelling of the original Welsh cwrwgl, cognate with Irish and Scottish Gaelic currach, and is recorded in English text as early as the sixteenth century.
Designed for use in swiftly flowing streams, the coracle has been in use in the British Isles for millennia, having been noted by Julius Caesar in his invasion of Britain in the mid first century BC, and used in his military campaigns in Spain. Remains interpreted as a possible coracle have also been found in an Early Bronze Age grave at Barns Farm near Dalgety Bay, and others have been described at Corbridge and near North Ferriby.
The coracle's structure, which has essentially remained unchanged for centuries, is made of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, tied with willow bark. The outer layer was originally an animal skin such as horse or bullock hide (corium), with a thin layer of tar to waterproof it – today replaced by tarred calico, canvas, or fibreglass. Oval in shape and very similar to half a walnut shell, the coracle has a keel-less flat bottom to evenly spread the load across the structure and to reduce the required depth of water – often to only a few inches. This makes it ideal for use on rivers.
They are an effective fishing vessel because, when powered by a skilled person, they hardly disturb the water or the fish, and they can be easily manoeuvred with one arm, while the other arm tends to the net; two coracles to a net.
Today, coracles are now only seen regularly in tourist areas of West Wales, with the Rivers Teifi and Tywi being the most common places to find them. On the Teifi they are most frequently seen around Cenarth, Cilgerran and Llechryd.
In 1974 a Welsh coracle piloted by Bernard Thomas of Llechryd even crossed the English Channel to France, clocking a time of just thirteen and a half hours. This journey was apparently undertaken to demonstrate how the Bull Boats of the Mandan Indians of North Dakota could have been copied from coracles introduced by Prince Madog in the 12th century. We're not sure how this feat is supposed to prove anything of the sort, but the whole Prince Madog thing is a strange and interesting story that we'll have to tell another day.
These coracles were built by James Pegrum and if you would like to see more models like this follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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