In a Lowly Cattle Shed

The rain is hammering down on the metal roof and the wind rattles every loose corrugated sheet but still the glorious voices of the singers rise up, soaring above the racket. A sense of community and common purpose is palpable – it feels like a triumph of spirit over adversity.

We are standing in an enormous open-sided shed in the middle of Machynlleth’s livestock market; the floor is gridded out with sturdy metal pens, which 3 days ago were crowded with jostling sheep. Each of us, in a group or singly, has our own pre-booked animal pen to ensure social distancing – the straw and dung has thankfully been swept aside.  At the front, performers from Mid Wales Opera are giving it their all – delighted to be in front of a live audience for the first time in months. Pop-up opera in a sheep shed – where else but Wales could these two so readily share a bed. 


As it happens this place was a haunt of mine during the first lockdown due to the interesting flora that grows here. In the scrubby margins, rough grass and disused animal pens all sorts of plants eke out an unlikely living. Some of them no doubt arrive here with the dung and straw, on the fleeces of the sheep or even the tyres of the vehicles that come from far and wide every market day. I found oddities like Apple of Peru, Fool’s Parsley and even a discarded potato, whose flowers were as lovely as I saw all summer. Others like Red Bartsia, Common Mallow and Dovesfoot Cranesbill inhabit the tussocky grass – scuffed patchily into seedbeds by wheels and hooves. Other species thrive in the undisturbed scrub that runs along one side of the mart: this was the only place in the district where I found our native Goldenrod and Broad-leaved Helleborine. The latter is an orchid, several of which were unusually vigorous and packed with flowers, despite having emerged from ground sprayed lifeless with weed killer.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Remembering these tenacious plants as I listened to the final rousing carol filled me with a sense that life and spirit can overcome even the most difficult times and daunting odds.

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