Tessa Waugh meets one of the few remaining people who make these traditional boats. Photographs by Richard Cannon.
There isn’t much that Karl Chattington doesn’t know about coracles. He’s one of the few remaining people making these small, round boats in the traditional way and is a passionate advocate of a dying way of life.
‘The importance of the coracle, salmon and sewin [sea trout] to west Wales can’t be overestimated,’ he explains. ‘Although the village of Cilgerran had 300 coracles about a century ago, the numbers have diminished dramatically over the years as salmon and sewin numbers have collapsed. Nowadays, coracle-fishing licences are few and far between and there are currently only eight issued on the River Tywi, 12 on the River Teifi and one on the River Taf.’
Fishermen work in pairs, with a net suspended between two coracles. The vessels themselves are unique to each river and, although the style varies between builders, the principles remain the same. ‘Firstly, I soak pieces of ash in the river for four to 10 days during the warmer weather, so it becomes pliable,’ explains Mr Chattington. Ash is the favoured wood with which to make coracles, but, as there isn’t much of it in the locality, Teifi coracles tend to be made of willow and hazel.
‘I then create a lattice of seven or eight strips running north to south and seven running east to west,’ he continues. ‘Traditionally, the frame was covered with skin or hide, but now we put calico over the frame and waterproof it with pitch and tar.’
Mr Chattington concludes with a rallying call: ‘Coracles are the world’s oldest continuously used vessel and an important part of our heritage. We must keep the tradition alive.’
For more information about coracles, please contact Mr Chattington by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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