Well, autumn is here. I am writing this three days before the historic independence referendum, so as I write this I have no idea if the people of Scotland have said Yes or No. But I can tell you with certainty that autumn is going to happen whatever the result.

The trees are turning, the rowans are decorated with vivid red berries, the weather has a fresh chill in the air, even when it is sunny. The crops have been harvested, hay awaits collection in the fields, and I have seen and heard the geese fly overhead as they prepare for their migration. And, of course, the chilly nights are drawing in. I love this time of year in the same way I love my middle age. It’s a colourful and beautiful time of year, a season in which every moment is cherished, every remaining flower enhanced. It’s a time when the fruits of spring’s hard work are harvested and enjoyed. The pleasure of every magical moment is enhanced by the knowledge that the year is ending and winter’s grip will soon take hold. And it’s also a social time. For some reason I always seem to have less time for friends and socialising in the summer. I’m out and about with family, doing outdoor stuff, having holidays; and my friends are usually doing the same. But as winter beckons, I have a primeval desire to reconnect with my social village. I suppose it’s a preparation for the winter. While the autumn still retains its pantomime of colour and drama I’m happy to be with nature as much as possible. But once oaks and birch are bare, and the the beech stands naked in the wood, a new social spirit kicks in. The winter cloak of darkness then confirms my mood.

So in autumn I begin to gather together my friends just like a squirrel gathers nuts. In both cases it’s about survival. To survive the dark unproductive winter time when the regenerative power of nature lies dormant.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. For many the enjoyment of autumn is tinged with a sense of dread at the approaching winter. For some, winter is a time of of depression and confinement. Cold and dark can be lonely companions, especially if they are the only ones you have.

And so we lift our spirits in the dark times ahead with Hallowe’en, St Andrew’s Night, Christmas, Hogmanay and Burns Night. They are all social times, when the warmth of friendship and companionship can make up for the lack of warmth outside.

Until recently, huddled round the fire, it was also a time of storytelling. It was the storytellers’ best season.

Make hay while the sun shines, and tell tales while the wind howls. The forced confinement imposed by winter created a willing audience in which storytellers could conjure the imaginations of those assembled in ways far superior to any Hollywood movie of today.

One of these storytellers was Lizzie Richardson. She was a remarkable woman and she died around 1825. It’s not recorded exactly, because people remembered the feeling of loss rather than the exact date of her passing. She lived in Haddington on the second floor of an old tenement in Church Street. Her reputation as a storyteller seems to have developed in the later part of her life, perhaps from necessity to earn a living, or perhaps a desire to fill her home with the clatter of life and sociability in her old age. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

In her earlier days she had made a living by keeping house for those from “respectable” families who sent their children to school in Haddington. But when these services were no longer required she reteated to her second floor flat and had to find new ways to keep body and soul together.

One source of income was her home-made treacle balls called clagham. This earned her the title ‘Clagham Lizzie’. Her clagham was understandably popular with the children of the town, who would often knock on her door asking for them. There was, in fact, a clagham war going on between Lizzie and Nannie Cairncross, whose booth nearby in Jack’s Land also sold the sweet treat.

Maybe it was the need to compete and find other ways to bring in customers that brought Lizzie to recognise that stories could be used to entice people to part with money just as much as treacle.

Her stories were from all sources. She had tales from her great grandfather which included a handed down story of Ronny Hood from a hamlet on the farm of Prora. He was one of the few who returned from the tragic and ill-considered invasion of England that led to the disaster at Flodden.

She claimed to have witnessed the execution of the two soldiers of Grant’s Fencibles in 1795, where there is now the 7th hole of the town’s golf course (the story of which has already featured on this page).

But her main interest was tales of ghosts, witches and warlocks as well as folk tales. She knew tales about kelpies, brownies and fairies, who she called the wee folk. Such stories filled her house at times like Hallowe’en, when she would cram her small living space with traditional activities such as dooking for apples.

Her favourite Hallowe’en tale was of the witch who lived at Dingleton, near Drem. I will not tell you this tale now, but I will share it with you when Hallowe’en arrives.

She didn’t just tell folktales, but believed strongly in them. In particular she believed that the wee folk still lived in East Lothian, despite the eradication of many stories about them by the kirk, and by the agricultural changes that had destroyed their dwellings.

“Och” she once told her audience, “ye maun be cafefu, fir they can be bonnie creatures. I ken that fir I hae seen then wi ma ain ee ruuning owre the grass by the Loth Stane”.

This old standing stone is, according to legend, the burial place of King Loth who once ruled the Goddodin celtic tribe. His stronghold on Traprain Law was once a great hill fort. She once told a tale she herself “had been telt in earnest”.

“Oan the west side o’ that great hill, close tae the Green Loaning row o’ hooses, ane of the country folk saw a licht, brighter than even a hundred candles could mak”.

And so the passerby decided to investigate. He crept towards the light and as he neared the origin of the light he could hear voices and laughter. He lay down and moved like a lizard and as he peered through a hedge his jaw dropped at the sight his disbelieving eyes saw.

“There were wee folk, hunners o’ them, haein a tournament. The great stane stood in the midst o’ this spectacle, as if watching. Even though it wis nicht, they danced and played their games in tae the licht spread by a great diamond which caught the moon in its images and then sparkled its licht ower the assembled host o wee folk.” It was an incredible sight and the man carefully withdrew from his vantage point and then when some distance away he stood up again and ran as fast as he could to tell his family and neighbours what he had seen.

It took some time to persuade them he was not drunk and sure enough as he approached, this time with a number of witnesses, the light was still emanating from the area around the Loth Stone and streaming into the sky.

But this time he could not approach so quietly. His neighbours were too keen to witness for themselves the unbelievable sight of a fairy tournament and, in their haste to get there, they made noises which alerted the wee folk.

“In an instant it wis dairk,” said Lizzie, “wi nae sicht o’ the wee folk, or the diamond that gied them licht”.

Such tales of the “wee folk” were once very common of course, and Lizzie seems to have been a repository of old traditions and stories handed down from previous generations. No doubt she also embellished and polished her tales to suit her audience, but maybe that was the strength of her storytelling.

Another favourite tale was the laird of Coul’s ghost and the dramatic death of the Boar of Saltcoats (both tales I have also told). She claimed to have spoken to a man when she was young who had seen the spear and glove used by Livingstone, the man who’d killed the boar.

Her house now no longer seems to exist and although her tales were remembered by those to whom she told them, many of them took the stories with them to their grave.

Yet the spirit of Clagham Lizzie lives on, and perhaps more then we realise, her tales are still told.

And so as autumn builds to its crescendo of colour before we are finally covered in winter’s darkness, I often imagine Clagham Lizzie busily boiling her treacle to make her famed “Lizzie’s Clegham” and musing over the tales she will tell to a captivated audience.

It’s kind of a cosy image, and maybe over romanticised. Maybe she was haunted by the possibility of destitution, and always felt just one story from hunger.

Even if so, she clearly loved stories and those who were lucky enough to hear “Clagham Lizzie” would proudly tell people that they remembered her.