Coracles & The Celts
World Magazine 00-05-1987
An introduction to a larger story on the craft of Coracle making and their survival through thousands of years of Celtic history, by Christopher Long.
Coracles are very remarkable British artefacts for the simple reason that they are probably the only surviving direct link with our earliest ancestors in the British Isles.
At least four hundred years before the arrival of the Romans, Celtic peoples were widespread in England and many of them lived in then undrained marshland areas such as the boggy lowland regions of the West Country. Small groups of huts probably formed villages on drier islands of land separated by shallow waters from the surrounding hills where flocks, wildlife, timber and other resources were abundant.
The coracle was a vital practical tool. Essentially little more than a strong but very light wooden framework with leather stetched over it, these small, one-man, egg-shaped craft provided essential transport across the marshy lagoons. They were almost certainly used for fishing. They could be used as simple sledges to haul back timber, food or livestock. In winter they would have performed like toboggans over the snow and in all weathers would have provided useful temporary shelter if up-turned on a few simple props.
The arrival of the Romans from Southern Europe, invaders from Northern Europe and the subsequent draining of the marshlands all resulted in driving these marshland peoples to the safety of more remote highland areas such as Wales.
The coracles which are still made and used today are almost indistinguishable from those original marshland craft and not surprisingly are to be found only in Wales. What is more surprising is that they've survived at all a visible and practical link with life in Britain thousands of years ago.
© (1987) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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