Coracles on the River Teifi, West Wales 1972. The two people pictured are John (forefront) and Will Davies of Cenarth — the last two legitimate Coracle fishermen in Cenarth. They are both using the single arm method of propulsion — a way of gliding downstream in a controlled way. They carried their boats (and their fish) home on their backs.

The coracle is a small, lightweight boat of the sort traditionally used in Wales but also in parts of Western and South Western England, Ireland (particularly the River Boyne),[1] and Scotland (particularly the River Spey); the word is also used of similar boats found in India, Vietnam, Iraq and Tibet.[2] The word "coracle" comes from the Welsh cwrwgl, cognate with Irish and Scottish Gaelic currach, and is recorded in English as early as the sixteenth century. Other historical English spellings include corougle, corracle, curricle and coricle.



A coracle near the River Tungabhadra, in Hampi India

Oval in shape and very similar to half a walnut shell, the structure 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),[3] with a thin layer of tar to make it fully water proof – today replaced by tarred calico or canvas, or simply fibreglass. The Vietnamese/Asian version of the coracle is made somewhat differently: using interwoven bamboo and waterproofed by using resin and coconut oil.[4] The structure has a keel-less, flat bottom to evenly spread the weight of the boat and its load across the structure and to reduce the required depth of water — often to only a few inches, making it ideal for use on rivers.

Each coracle is unique in design, as it is tailored to the river conditions where it was built and intended to be used. In general there is one design per river, but this is not always the case. The Teifi coracle, for instance, is flat bottomed, as it is designed to negotiate shallow rapids, common on the river in the summer, while the Carmarthen coracle is rounder and deeper, because it is used in tidal waters on the Tywi, where there are no rapids. Teifi coracles are made from locally harvested wood — willow for the lats (body of the boat), hazel for the weave (Y bleth in Welsh — the bit round the top) — while Tywi coracles have been made from sawn ash for a long time. The working boats tend to be made from fibreglass these days. Teifi coracles use no nails, relying on the interweaving of the lats for structural coherence, whilst the Carmarthen ones use copper nails and no interweaving.

They are an effective fishing vessel because, when powered by a skilled man, 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.

Another important aspect to the Welsh Coracle is that it can be carried on his back by one man. 'Llwyth dyn ei gorwgl' — the load of a man is his coracle. (Welsh saying).


A coracle on the River Severn near Ironbridge (August 2002)
A typical River Teifi coracle in Manordeifi Old Church

Designed for use in the swiftly flowing streams of Wales and parts of the rest of Britain and Ireland, the coracle has been in use for centuries, having been noted by Julius Caesar[3] in his invasion of Britain in the mid first century BC, and used in his campaigns in Spain. Remains interpreted as a possible coracle were found in a Bronze Age grave from near Dalgety Bay, and two others have been described, from Corbridge and from near Ferriby.[5]

According to Ian Harries, coracle fisherman, coracles are so light and portable that they can easily be carried on the fisherman's shoulders when proceeding to and from his work. Coracle fishing is performed by two coraclers. Where fishing is performed by two people, there is one fisherman per coracle. The net is stretched across the river between the two coracles (the coracler will paddle one handed, dragging the net in the other) and drawn downstream. When a fish is caught, each hauls up an end of the net until the two coracles are brought to touch, and the fish is then secured, using a priest (or knocker – a small block of wood) to stun the fish.


Coracles are now seen regularly only in tourist areas of West Wales, and irregularly in Shropshire on the River Severn – a public house in Sundorne, Shrewsbury called "The Coracle" has a pub sign featuring a man using a coracle on a river. The Welsh Rivers Teifi and Tywi are the best places to find coracles in Wales, although the type of coracle differs depending on the river. On the Teifi they are most frequently seen between Cenarth, and Cilgerran and the village of Llechryd.

In 1974 a Welsh coracle piloted by Bernard Thomas of Llechryd crossed the English Channel to France in 13½ hours. The journey was 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.[6]

For many years until 1979, Shrewsbury coracle maker Fred Davies achieved some notability amongst football fans; he would sit in his coracle during Shrewsbury Town FC home matches at Gay Meadow, and retrieve stray balls from the River Severn. Although Davies died in 1994, his legend is still associated with the club.[7]

The Coracle Society

The Coracle Society is a UK based organisation, founded by president Sir Peter Badge in 1990. The five founding aims of the Society were:

  • To promote the knowledge of coracles, curraghs and allied craft, their making and use, and also their study and collection,
  • To take all reasonable steps to support the continuance of fishing involving the use of coracles and to encourage the holding of coracle regattas, races and the like,
  • To publish a newsletter as a means of communication between all those interested in coracles,
  • To use its best endeavours to obtain supplies of materials for the construction of coracles, and
  • To promote demonstrations, courses, exhibitions, discussions and lectures relating to coracles.[8]

There are many Society members across the country who demonstrate at events and/or run coracle building courses. Terry Kenny, the current chairman of the Society, runs several courses each year at the Green Wood Centre. This year, the Society will be represented at over thirty events and courses – a list of some of this year's events can be found on the official Coracle Society website.

The Society was present at the 2005 Shrewsbury River Festival, where they displayed various coracles on the River Severn. There is also an Annual Coracle Regatta held in Ironbridge on the August Bank Holiday Monday every year. It is organised by the Green Wood Centre and is run on an informal basis whereby anyone with a coracle can take part in the event. Each year new entrants come with coracles made on the Bank Holiday weekend at the Green Wood Centre with local coracle maker Terry Kenny.

Indian coracles are frequently used on the Kabini River, Karnataka, India.

The third Coracle Challenge, which raises funds in support of Macmillan Cancer Support took place in Shrewsbury on 19 May 2009, with Terry Kenny participating on behalf of the Society.[9][10]

In 2010, the Society will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a number of events planned to recognise this important milestone.


The design of the craft, as explained above, makes the coracle an unstable craft. Because it sits "on" the water, rather than "in" it, they can easily be carried by currents and the wind. The Coracle Society has published guidelines for safely using coracles.[11]

Similar craft

The Ku-Dru or Kowa of Tibet is very similar to a coracle—Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
Yak skin coracle in Tibet, 1938
Yak skin coracle in Tibet, 2006

The earliest known written evidence of a coracle-type boat (quffa), still in use today, is in the Bible, Exodus 2:3.

The Irish curach (also currach or curragh) is a similar, but larger, vessel still in use today. Curachs were also used in the west of Scotland:

"The curach or boat of leather and wicker may seem to moderns a very unsafe vehicle, to trust to tempestuous seas, yet our forefathers fearlessly committed themselves in these slight vehicles to the mercy of the most violent weather. They were once much in use in the Western Isles of Scotland, and are still found in Wales. The framework [in Gaelic] is called crannghail, a word now used in Uist to signify a frail boat." Dwelly's [Scottish] Gaelic Dictionary[12]

The currachs in the River Spey were particularly similar to Welsh coracles. Other related craft include:

See also


  1. ^ Evans, E. Estyn (2000). Irish Folk Ways. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 233. ISBN 9780486414409. 
  2. ^ The coracle, an ancient little boat
  3. ^ a b  Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "[[Wikisource:1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/{{subst:PAGENAME}}|{{subst:PAGENAME}}]]". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  4. ^ Fagan, Brian M. (2004). The Seventy Great Inventions of the Ancient World. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500051305. 
  5. ^ Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 112 (1982) 48–141, page 119, associated with a late Beaker, and a possible radiocarbon date of 1846 BC + or − 80 years (SRR-528) on page 52. The excavation of an Early Bronze Age cemetery at Barns Farm, Dalgety, Fife. Trevor Watkins. With contributions by Mrs Lin Barnetson, Miss A S Henshall, Dr Dorothy Lunt, Ms Ellen McAdam, Mrs Fiona Roe, Alan Shepherd and Dr C C McCawley
  6. ^ Wales on Britannia: Facts About Wales & the Welsh
  7. ^ Gentlemen of the River by Phyllis Blakemore. Stenlake Publishing ISBN 9781840334739
  8. ^ Rules of the British Coracle Society (Coracle Society constitution – available from the Society)
  9. ^ Coracle Society events listings
  10. ^ The Coracle Maker – Calendar of events
  11. ^ Coracle Society safety guidelines
  12. ^

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • coracle — ● coracle nom masculin Embarcation fluviale ou lacustre légère, faite de branchages entrecroisés et recouverts de peaux ou de toiles imperméabilisées, se manœuvrant à la pagaie. coracle [kɔʀakl] n. m. ou f. ÉTYM. 1898, Nouveau Larousse illustré;… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Coracle — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Dos coracles utilizados para la pesca del salmón en el río Teifi, en 1972. El coracle es un primitivo bote ligero, cuya forma permite llevarlo a la espalda. Características Mide unos 2 m. y está fabricado con …   Wikipedia Español

  • coracle — round boat of wicker, coated with skins, 1540s (the thing is described, but not named, in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle from 9c.), from Welsh corwgl, from corwg, cognate with Gael. curachan, M.Ir. curach boat, which probably is the source of M.E.… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Coracle — Cor a*cle, n. [W. corwgl, cwrwgl, fr. corwg, cwrwg, any round body or vessel, the trunk of the body, carcass.] A boat made by covering a wicker frame with leather or oilcloth. It was used by the ancient Britons, and is still used by fisherman in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • coracle — (izg. kòrakl) m DEFINICIJA velški i irski maleni čamac (1 2 m) od pletena pruća premazan masom koja ne propušta vodu; pelota, parachal, guffa ETIMOLOGIJA engl. ← ir. curach …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • coracle — ► NOUN ▪ a small, round boat made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material, propelled with a paddle. ORIGIN Welsh corwgl, related to Scottish Gaelic and Irish curach small boat …   English terms dictionary

  • coracle — [kôr′ə kəl] n. [< Welsh corwgl < corwg, orig., leather covered boat; akin to L corium, hide: see CORIUM] a short, roundish boat made as of animal skins or canvas waterproofed and stretched over a wicker or wooden frame …   English World dictionary

  • Coracle — Coracles de la Rivière Teifi, Pays de Galles 1972. Un coracle (en gallois cwrwgl) est un type primitif de bateau, dont des formes proches ou dérivées sont encore utilisées dans plusieurs endroits du monde …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coracle — Coracles neuerer Bauart auf dem Fluss Teifi in Wales (1972) Ein Coracle (Walisisch: cwrwgl) ist ein sehr kleines kielloses Boot für Binnengewässer. Das meist für eine Person gebaute Fahrzeug ist aus Korbgeflecht und hat eine meist ovale oder… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • coracle — UK [ˈkɒrək(ə)l] / US [ˈkɔrək(ə)l] noun [countable] Word forms coracle : singular coracle plural coracles a small round boat made from animal skins …   English dictionary

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