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The Annual Ironbridge Coracle Regatta

Organised by the staff and volunteers of the Green Wood Centre the Annual Ironbridge Coracle Regatta attracts paddlers from all over the country. Competitors take part in a number games, races and competitions along a picturesque stretch of the River Seven.

Coracles on the River Severn, August 2009.
Coracles on the River Severn, August 2009.

Coracles are keel-less flat bottomed boats made from woven wood covered in animal skins - or, more often nowadays, canvas sewn on and waterproofed with tar or bitumen. Coracles have been used for thousands of years in Europe and especially in the Welsh borders and Wales itself. It is said that you could once tell which village or region a man was from by the shape and design of his coracle, some like the Shrewsbury coracle were extremely small and lightweight, others, like the Conway coracle were a more substantial craft. The Ironbridge coracle - made locally for generations, especially by the Rodgers family - is made from laths of ash which have been soaked in hot water then bent into semicircles. The frame is covered in calico then the seat is installed and finally the coracle is waterproofed. The oar used with the Ironbridge coracle is spade shaped and about four feet long. Coracles were used for fishing, ferrying and - commonly in Ironbridge - for poaching.

The Coracle Regatta at Ironbridge has a wonderful feeling of eccentricity about it, a feeling that you only get at village fair or a school sports day, invariably the sun is shining, the grass is dry and the ice creams are cold! I had seen coracles in photogrphs and watched them being paddled about on the television - I remember a news report of an old man paddling his coracle on the river outside the Shrewsbury Town football stadium, collecting misguided shots, passes and clearances that fell into the watery drink. It's only when watching them being paddled for 'real' that you get any sense of how unstable they seem, how high in the water they sit (useful for shallow streams), their size, speed and excellent manoeuvrability. There are races, games, the occasional ducking and a chance to take to the water yourself. It would have been welcome to have seen a little 'historical re-enactment' of how the coracle was used in the past - how one or two coracles would have been used to fish a river.

The Green Wood Centre, Ironbridge, August 2009.
The Green Wood Centre, Ironbridge, August 2009.

Away from the action on the river are a small number of food stalls, tombola's and a small woodworking - coracle making demonstration. And if your interest isn't sustained by a few hours of coracle racing then the museums and industrial heritage of Ironbridge are within easy walking distance - stroll across the Iron Bridge, stop off at the Lincoln Hill Limekilns and visit the Green Wood Centre, where coracles are made and tea and cakes served.