Coracle making course review

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29 May 2024

Charles and Maggie, a couple of Architects from Oxford, recently tried their hands at coracle making on a course at The Gorfanc Hideaway in March 2024. Maggie Forrester grew up in Shropshire and remembers the man on the river, Fred Davies “The Coracle Man”, and her local pub “The Coracle” where many a pint was had. So when she came across a leaflet advertising coracle making at Gorfanc in Wales the opportunity was too great to miss out on.

Camping on site is available on the high ground or in tents by the river, or a more luxurious night can be had in the Hideaway Hut. Maggie and Charles’ Campervan was set up close to the farmhouse and the early morning meet and greet was held in the barn with all the rest of the group (7 pairs in total) for an indoor introduction to coracle making (not least because of the horizontal rain, hail and sleet) given by Pippa Scott and Rob Ritchie.

Pippa is a renowned basket weaver and artist, some of her work could be seen around the barn along with home grown honey, jam and eggs. Rob bringing to the skill set his expertise in carpentry and wood turning (he also makes beautifully handcrafted paddles which you can buy).

We were given an introduction to Coracles, their history and the many types that exist (or used to) and most importantly the type we were to build would which be the “Irish Boyne”. Big enough to carry one person, light enough to carry and simple to make with just a few hand tools!

Morning break was delightful with hot tea, hot coffee, homemade cake and flapjacks brought to us by Sally.

Armed with our bundles of willow we then ventured out into the field to use the all important natural setting of earth to act as a vice for the structure.Each group had their own patch of ground to work on, the safety perimeter based upon the spring back lashing of a piece of 2m willow!

We each used our timber rule with the framework setting out marks to follow and pushing into the ground to a depth strong enough to hold firm.

We then used another bundle of willow to weave the top of the coracle (the structural diaphragm). This had to be done in a careful manner to ensure that every willow end was secured in place before another could begin as well as locking in the timber seat. An order which had to be followed for the coracle to be structurally sound and robust. Pippa and Rob, and Jason were always on hand and helped each of the groups when the weaving was wayward; eventually the hail and sleet gave way to glorious sky.

Sally looked after us again with a hearty lunch of homemade soup and rolls, crudites, and more cake! The afternoon was a head down hive of activity, each group finishing the framework ready for the following day.We all had a restful night and the final day with a later start and the sun shining on the valley below, inspired us all to work in earnest on the final tasks of covering. The sheer happiness of using a few tools and what nature has provided to bring about a boat.The strings securing all the willow and cross bracing could be cut and the coracle upturned ready to sew on the calico envelope.

A tad of personal expression in the sewing of calico took on a manner of its own, every coracle individual on completion. The final task of waterproofing with a bitumen glaze has to be done at home and a couple of months allowed for the willow to fully dry out and the calico to be water tight, before a personal launch!

However, with the assistance of Jason (in one he made earlier) we all took to the brook for a paddle lesson. The art of which is to relax and balance! Relax!

What a fantastic way to spend a weekend.

Maggie Forrester