SITTING in the hoose unable to visit some of my favourite places, I find that stories are transporting me to them instead.

I often say to the kids at night when they say they can’t sleep (which is most nights) to think of a place to go, then close their eyes and make it happen in their dreams.

So I’ve been taking my own advice and stories are taking me to favourite places that in normal times I would be visiting in reality.

One of these is Woodhall Dean.

I walked through its oak wood in my imagination recently, and I realised I still hadn’t solved the mystery of why there is a location called Tinker’s Leap by the steep sided burn.

So I decided to ask Jess Smith, the renowned traveller and author.

She told me that the story comes from Covenanting times but she couldn’t recall it from the top of her head.

She will search it out in what she calls her “cave” of books and recordings.

But she immediately rolled off another tale, which comes from the same region and fits the bill.

It is a tale shared by Border travellers, as they moved from place to place and in whose company she “spent many a campsite stick fire with”.

She painted a picture of the story culture she comes from. Here are her words:

In the past many couldn’t read or write and so our history was rolled into the mind and later unravelled when the wheels stopped rolling and the horses were roped for grazing.

Cars and lorries may have replaced the old methods of transport, but the importance of our cultural tales remained the same.

Stories for children were about joys and adventures of the fairy folk, goblins and broonies.

As they grew older, moral messages were concealed in the stories to teach the young person about moral issues.

Respecting the earth and all that lived on her made for some wonderful tales about animals and birds; why the snakes see all, who painted the eagles’ feather tips, does a blackbird feel a storm coming at the base of his beak?

Is it not wise to heed the warning of a dog who does not rise to happily welcome the arrival of its master?

Our lives revolved around such tales, and their inner meanings. The boy who cried wolf was forever with us; do not lie!

You see, forests hold more than trees; and rocks will whisper; if you have an ear to listen.

Our entire lives were, and are, stories. In my culture we had a teller in every family.

In her books about the lives of traditional travellers, and her personal experience of it, she does not overly romanticise it.

It could be a hard life, and one often misunderstood or discriminated against, as indeed it still is.

But the legacy of stories, told and re-told over campfires, in caravans and kitchens, passed down from generation to generation is a rich and priceless inheritance.

I was honoured that she shared a tale with me, albeit online rather than face to face, as these times demand.

I believe it is a tradition we should all honour and can learn from.

And so here is the story she shared.

It has a Tinker’s Leap in it and, who knows, it could refer to the place so named in Woodhall Dean.

I have tried as best I can to keep the resonance of Jess’s voice in the telling.

So sit round your campfire, real or imagined, for Jess’s tale:

The story I am going to tell is of the Earl of Hell. Aye well that is how folk called him. I’m told he was a relative of the famous Jeannie Gordon.

Well, he was a handsome lad, and had a roving eye. He also had a knack of walking into trouble.

Well one day he was accused of stealing something. He knew he would get no fair hearing in court, and sure enough he didn’t.

Soon he found himself before a dour judge, who donned his black cap and pronounced that he will be hanged at the light of dawn.

Now the Earl had already escaped death three times. Some say he had the blood of Red Ruth in his veins.

This time it seemed, he had met his fate. But this young lad was not ready to meet his maker.

The hangman did his deadly job but as the Earl fell through the trap door he began a dance at the end of the rope, in which he dislocated his shoulders, threw his legs up in a circle and managed to free himself.

The jailers were aghast, and disbelief momentarily paralysed their responses.

This gave the Earl time to scuffle to his feet and flee up the steps. No door was locked, for nobody had expected the need of it.

The lad jumped onto a horse and rode at speed. His horsemanship was, of course, a skill honed from childhood and he rode to freedom.

However, a guard was likewise a skilled rider and took chase after him.

Perhaps the Earl eased up on his horse for a moment, believing he was well away, but soon the sound of galloping told him different. The guard was closing in.

The Earl made his horse fly like the wind. He headed into the trees, hoping to lose his pursuer, but to no avail.

The steep sided burn lay ahead. So he rode like the devil towards the precipice.

But at the last moment his horse took understandable fright, and stalled, throwing him to the ground.

As the Earl stood, his horse would have no more of it and fled.

His pursuer now drew a sword that glinted in the morning sun as he charged; perhaps after all the Earl of Hell would die in this dawn light.

But his title was well earned.

He turned towards the precipice and threw caution to the wind and leapt over the edge.

The pursuing guard pulled up his horse and watched as the Earl flew over the ravine and landed like a cat on the other side.

The guard fumbled for his pistol, but the Earl vanished into the thicket of the wood in moments.

The location became known ever after as Tinker’s Leap.

And as for the Earl of Hell himself, he was seen again only through the misty visions of drunk men, and the eyes of his sweetheart; who did not tell his story till long after he was dead.”