stories and illustration

Old Barn Door

To my amazement, I found that over the past fifteen months I have scarcely put an image on to WordPress, whereas before I used to go out walking for miles, with my camera, come home and trawl through the images I had captured, then put a few on to this site; it was like a kind of diary. I am quite a hoarder, I realise; letters, photographs, emails, thingummies, boxes, books, pictures, unsorted reference material, cards, even old newspapers (though I do manage to throw them away, these days, hoarding newspapers is not a good trait). There is so much in the world, the older I’ve got the more I realise how little I know; and behind me fragments of my life pile up, waiting to be sorted into some kind of shape.

So, this is an image that appeared among the many hoarded, and I put it up here, somewhat at random. I liked the light through the cracks. This same image I realise, was put on my website in May 2014. The words are different, the place is further away, I will let it stay. One day I will go out into the landscape again, with my camera; but at the moment, walking is for my health only; my energy is with a fiddle, a banjo, a little tin whistle. a guitar, a turquoise patterned drum, and some bears.

This image is of an old barn across the yard of an old house in the Liddel Valley, which is the place that has captured my heart; though it is only when I go back there that I realise how deep this feeling goes. The countryside round about belongs to the hawks, and the hares, and the orchids. There is a room above the barn which had old papers in it, including some of my father’s plans, though these days I don’t know what is there. Massive stone steps with no railing lead up to this room; last time I visited I think the room was padlocked, and the steps were were clotted with the droppings of barn owls, which made me happy, as barn owls are the spirit of the place. For years after my son and I left the house they disappeared; and now they are back. At dusk and even late afternoon they can be seen, flying slow and low and white, sometimes mobbed by smaller birds. Their cry is eldritch. I have a stuffed barn owl in my studio. He is called Marvin, after a magician in a book called Parchment House, which was published many years ago. My young son, who was used to me writing poems, sat down and read it, and said: “I didn’t know you could write a proper book!”

May 6, 2021 - Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , ,


  1. It’s a lovely door, Cara. Think of all the lives that have passed through it. People with their tools, horses pulling wagons, barn owls and other birds, dogs and cats, creatures large and small. Many generations. Our barn is home to a small colony of bats who leave in the autumn and return in the spring. Barns are magical places, full of dark corners and mysterious nooks. I hope your father’s plans are still in that upper room, waiting to be rediscovered.


    Comment by Tokens of Companionship | May 7, 2021 | Reply

    • When I go back to Liddesdale people have come and gone, but there is something about the landscape that endures. It is strange, I didn’t realise how it haunted me until I went back there. On my last solitary visit I just walked all day. The evenings were a tad lonesome. I was sitting watching the television, outside it was summer dusk, when I heard a kind of husky cheeping – I thought maybe it was the smoke alarm – but when I turned my head a small owl was on the wide windowsill, its back to me. This morning, half asleep, I heard David Attenborough describing “the tweet of the day” and it was just this owl sound. Not a barn owl, this time, a tawny. Liddesdale is a place where animals and birds and all the elements of the landscape seem to feel at home. People are not such an intrusion, in this landscape this world of sparsely populated hill-farming country. We had bats, too, Brad, inside and outside the house….

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Cara Lockhart Smith | May 7, 2021 | Reply

      • Each autumn, I know the bats have left because I stop finding their droppings in the barn to sweep up. It makes me feel a little sad to realize they’ve gone, but it’s also reassuring to know they’re doing what they need to survive. It affects me more than the migrations of the birds, because I feel more connected to them. Maybe you felt a similar connection to your barn owls.

        Liddesdale sounds lovely!


        Comment by Tokens of Companionship | May 8, 2021

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