Coracles: A Brief History
Coracles have been around for thousands of years. They were originally covered with animal skins, which is still done in many countries today.
Julius Caesar had the first accounts of coracles, and this was in 49 BC in Spain when he orders his troops to construct wickerwork boats and cover them with hides that he saw in Britain a few years ago. In Wales, their skin is now made of calico waterproofed with a bitumastic paint.
More particularly, coracles have been in use since pre-Roman era in the British Isles. While their main role is related to fishing and transportation, there are records showing they have also been used by security and military forces.
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There is proof that Wellington used them while campaigning in India. In the same country last year an Indian newspaper showed a photograph of an Indian coracle being used in the pursuit of a dangerous criminal. In the same country, there were reports of a dangerous criminal being chased down with the use of an Indian coracle.
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Coracles exist not just in the British Isles, Ireland and India, but in Vietnam and Tibet as well. Very recently, they were even sightings in Iraq, with some reports saying they are also being used in Norway and close to Chernobyl.
Coracles could no longer be seen in Scotland for one-and-a-half centuries, but until th elate 1940s, they were still used in Ireland. Today though, they are often found in the West Walian rivers called The Teifi, The Towy and The Taf. Here, they are typically used by net fishers, the net being held by two coracles running along with the current, pulling out a salmon or sewin at during restricted periods of the year.
However, all of these coracles must be licensed. They’re growing fewer and fewer everyday. Conventional coracle makers are still on the Severn at Iron-Bridge and Shrewsbury.
During their prime (around the end of the last century), more coracles were used on the River Severn than on any other British Isles river.
Coracles are different from other river craft by their propulsion, weight and construction. Coracles are traditionally built with willow ar ash laths and have a covering made of calico or canvas with pitch and tar or bitumastic paint in more recent constructions. Their weight is within the 25 to 40-pound range, and they be carried easily on the shoulders. A single paddle held in both hands is used to propel them with a figure of 8 movement.
Fishermen make use of a similar stroke but only with one hand over the side of the craft, allowing the other hand to hold the net. The Coracle Society is very active in efforts to preserve and protect the tradition of old coracle making, with makers and users alike already becoming very few in number. The group is there as well to help produce a new generation of coracle builders.