Coracle Construction

Coracles (from the Welsh "cwrwgl") have been in use in the British Isles from pre-Roman times - the earliest known reference to a coracle (small hide-boats) is in "The History of Herodotus" written about 424 BC. Although their main use was for basic transportation and fishing, it has been recorded that coracles have been used for military purposes . In 1360, during the reign of Edward III, Froissart's Chronicles (chivalric revival of the 14th century England and France) stated that the invasion army from England to France carried small boats of boiled leather used for fishing. Also there is some evidence that Wellington used them during his campaigns in India (1797–1805).

One important aspect to the Coracle is that it can be carried easily by one man on his back: "LLwyth Dyn ei Gorwg" — the load of a man is his coracle. (Welsh saying).

Here I am in the process of making my first ancient coracle , built at Buster Ancient Farm in 2008.

The first stage is to construct the basic round frame from hazel (Corylus avellana).

16 Hazel rods are placed into the ground in a circular shape and then more hazel is weaved to create a dome with a diameter of around 1.5metres. The frame is secured with cord to help retain the dome shape and excess wood trimmed.


Once the fame is complete, linen is folded and then sewn to frame so that it can be coated in hot Coal Tar Pitch at working temperature of around 180°C. Working with hot Coal Tar Pitch is extremely dangerous, as it can be absorbed into skin and will certainly cause great discomfort if splashed onto skin/eyes and also because it is hazardous to the environment.

The last stage must be done very carefully, partly because the hot tar cools rapidly (giving a working time of about 10-15 seconds using a tar brush) and partly to ensure all holes are coated in tar to waterproof the craft. Probably the easiest way to ensure all areas are covered is for one person to look through and spot any holes and another person to be ready with the tar brush on the other side.

The design of the coracle makes it an unstable craft, because it sits "on" the water, rather than "in" it. The maiden voyage of my first coracle was at a Britannia reenactment event at Flag Fen. A second craft I made (using the same construction techniques, but with roofing bitumen rather that hot pitch) was equally successful at an event in Malden.

(For more information on ancient water craft, visit ~ Dark-Age-Boats)


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