Oval in shape and very similar to half a walnut shell, the structure is made of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, tied with willow bark. The outer layer was originally an animal skin such as horse or bullock hide (corium), with a thin layer of tar to make it fully water proof - today replaced by tarred calico or canvas, or simply fibreglass. The structure has a keel-less, flat bottom to evenly spread the weight of the boat and its load across the structure and to reduce the required depth of water - often to only a few inches, making it ideal for use on rivers.
Designed for use in the swiftly flowing streams of Wales, the coracle has been in use for centuries, having been noted by the Roman invaders as early as the 1st Century A.D.
Coracles are so light and portable that they can easily be carried on the fisherman's shoulders when proceeding to and from his work. Coracle-fishing is performed by two men, each seated in his coracle and with one hand holding the net while with the other he plies his paddle. When a fish is caught, each hauls up his end of the net until the two coracles are brought to touch and the fish is/are then secured.
The coracle forms a unique link between the modern life of Britain and its remote past. This early type of boat was in existence amongst the Britons at the time of the invasion of Julius Caesar, who has left a description of it, and even employed it in his Spanish campaign. On land, coracles could provide light troops with protection from missile weapons.
In 1974 as part of a publicity stunt, a Welsh coracle piloted by Bernard Thomas of Llechryd managed to cross the English Channel to France in 13 1/2 hours. The journey was undertaken to demonstrate how the Bull Boats of the Mandan Indians of North Dakota could have been copied from Welsh coracles introduced by Prince Madog in the 12th century.
For many years, Shrewsbury coracle maker Fred Davies achieved some notability amongst football fans, by a unique service he and his coracle provided. He would sit in his coracle during Shrewsbury Town FC home matches, and retrieve stray footballs from the River Severn. Although Mr Davies has long since passed on, his legend is still associated with the club.
There is a Coracle Society based in Shropshire, whose president and founder is Sir Peter Badge. The society was present at the 2005 Shrewsbury River Festival, where they displayed various coracles on the River Severn. There is also an Annual Coracle Regatta held in Ironbridge on the August Bank Holiday Monday every year. It is organised by the Green Wood Centre and is run on an informal basis, anyone with a coracle can take part in the event. Many families return every year and each year new entrants come with coracles made on the Bank Holiday weekend at the Green Wood Centre with local coracle maker Terry Kenny.
The Currachs in the River Spey were particularly similar to coracles. Other related craft include