The new BBC series "Britain Afloat" is now available to view. The episode "The Coracle" will be broadcast on BBC Two/BBC Two HD on Saturday, 7th October at 8pm (exc Scotland - see local listings for details) or is available now via the BBC iPlayer
About the coracle
The coracle - also known as the currach, bull boat, quffa, parasil - is a small, keel-less boat. Their main uses has always been as a means for fishing or transportation. Today, certainly within Europe, their main use tends to be recreational, although in Wales a number of licences exist to permit use as a fishing vessel. In other parts of the world, particularly the Middle and Far East, they are still used for their original purpose - as a workboat for fishing or transportation. The coracle has a long history spanning thousands of years, evidenced in cave paintings of their use from the early Bronze Age and perhaps as far back as the Ice Age. The coracle is likely to be the first form of water transportation.
The traditional construction of the coracle - largely unchanged in modern times - is a basketwork frame made using locally foraged wood. Ropework made from animal hair may have been used to secure parts of the framework together, depending on the type (design) of coracle. The waterproof covering was a hide, such as cattle or bull.
Modern materials and technologies has changed the way the coracle can be constructed. Whilst the frame construction has changed very little - a wooden basket frame - this tends to be formed using sawn or hand-cleft laths. Many coracles are still built with willow or hazel, though other woods such as ash are also used. Modern waterproof coverings tend to be a natural cotton canvas (calico) or a synthetic fabric such as nylon, with pitch or bitumen paint used as the waterproofing agent.
Some coracles are made from fibreglass - a mould being used to define the shape, with a seat installed afterwards. Bitumen or other waterproofing paints or gels is then applied once the resin has hardened. No doubt it won't be too long before carbon fibre is used in coracle construction. The benefits of using fibreglass and carbon fibre are twofold - they produce a very light vessel, and the skin is inherently stronger than fabric coverings, needing a lot of effort to cause damage (particularly below the waterline) that would allow water ingress. Another advantage is that fabric - and hide - coverings can rot over time, which will then require replacement.
When many people consider coracles, the tendancy is to place their provenance within the United Kingdom and specifically Wales. This is due to their continued use as a working fishing boat, particularly in South Wales. However, the coracle can be found in many places worldwide - whether evidence of past use, or as in Wales, through continued use today. Generally speaking, coracles can be found in Europe, North America, the Middle and Far East.
Coracle design - their shape and size - differs around the world and even within the United Kingdom. This is down to a number of factors - the materials available locally to construct the vessel from, the intended use for the vessel, the conditions of the water they are to be used on and even personal preferences. Because of this, coracles can be defined into a number of 'types' - within the UK alone, there are more than twenty different coracle types. Include those found elsewhere in the world and that number creeps up into the thirties. Within the United Kingdom, coracle types tend to be named after their rivers although in some places - particularly rivers with numerous types - they are named after their locale:
|Welsh types||English types||Scots/Irish types||Worldwide|
This is not a definitive list - there is evidence of coracles being used elsewhere. In the United Kingdom, in Cornwall, Norfolk, on the Taff (Cardiff and Glamorgan) and on the Thames. In Europe, in Poland, Ukraine and Norway
For more information on individual coracle types, please see our coracle types pages