WHITTINGEHAME is a beautiful and quiet corner of East Lothian. It was here that many years ago there was a story about a ghost boy who would sit on a wall by the woods and cry.

But why was he a ghost, and why was he crying?

One day, many years ago, two farm workers were walking along the road at Whittingehame towards the village of Stenton. As they walked by the wood, one of them heard a strange sound.

“Do you hear that?” she asked.

“Aye, it sounds like a child crying,” said her friend.

They stood still and listened. Sure enough, there was a sound of weeping and sobbing coming from the woods.

They looked into the wood but couldn’t see anyone. Then they heard the crying again.

It was an eerie sound of soft sobbing echoing amongst the trees.

They searched and searched the wood but they found no child.

When the farm workers eventually got back to their village they asked if anyone’s child had gone missing.

Thankfully, all the children of the area were tucked up safe in bed at home. So who had been crying in the wood?

A few days later, the same farm workers were walking along the same road just as dark was falling.

Once again they heard crying. Like before, it was an eerie soft weeping sound. But this time they saw the child!

It was a small boy sitting on a wall on the edge of the wood, weeping and holding his head in his hands.

They walked towards to him to comfort him. But as they got near him he raised his head and looked directly at them.

They froze with terror, for they realised he was a ghost. They turned and ran away.

Soon, the whole neighbourhood knew about the ghost of the wee boy who was crying in the wood. And people were afraid.

They said it must be a demon, or bad spirit. So people avoided that part of the road and would go a different way, or they would run away if they heard the crying.

But the wee ghost was not an evil demon or bad spirit.

He was the ghost of a boy who had died on the day he’d been born. His mother had given birth to him secretly in the wood, then buried him there.

Why did she do this? She was a young woman who was pregnant, but she was unmarried.

She lived in harsh times and she knew she would be punished for what people said was a sin.

She would be humiliated and disowned by her family and community, her life would be ruined. So she kept her pregnancy a secret.

How difficult must that have been?

Her only crime had been to fall in love and trust someone.

When the time came, she had to give birth to her son alone and in secret.

The trees were the only witness to her pain. She was all alone, muffling her cries so nobody would hear.

Her baby died. She was full of sadness and guilt.

But she was also terrified that she would be discovered by those who would judge her. So she secretly buried her son in the woods, where nobody would find him.

She said a prayer and asked God to take care of him, but in her panic and fear she forgot to give her son a name.

And so that was why the wee boy was a ghost. It was said that because he had no name, the poor lad’s spirit could not enter heaven.

His spirit was trapped in the wood, alone and unloved. That was why he was crying.

And people would run away from him when they saw or heard him. That made him feel even more alone.

Then, one morning, an old scruffy homeless man was walking down the road. He saw the wee boy sitting on the wall.

He noticed he was a ghost, and was just about to run away, but then he realised the spirit was upset and crying.

The homeless man understood; he knew what it felt like to be alone and unloved. He felt sorry for the wee ghost.

So instead of running away, he spoke to the boy in a friendly voice.

“How’s it all with you this morning, Short Hoggers?”

Instantly, the wee ghost stopped crying and looked up at the man, and gave him a big smile. Someone had noticed him and talked to him nicely!

But also the man had given him a name: Short Hoggers!

Short hoggers was the name for footless stockings. The man had noticed the ghost had bare feet and the way the shadow was falling on his legs it looked like he was wearing short footless stockings. That’s why he called him Short Hoggers.

But it was a name! The wee ghost boy now finally had a name!

He happily jumped off the wall, and skipped and danced away, calling out merrily: “Oh weel’s me noo! I’ve gotten a name. They call me Short -Hoggers o’ Whittingehame!”

He skipped and danced happily away; all the way to heaven. Now he had a name so he could enter, and finally be with his mother.

So his ghost was never seen again.

The understanding and kind words of the poor homeless man changed everything for the boy. Perhaps the old man never knew the power his kind words had; until he got to heaven himself.

This tale is based on a rhyme collected by the 19th century antiquarian Robert Chambers and the story said to be behind it.