It’s difficult to miss Redhouse Castle as you drive past it on the road to or from Longniddry.

It suddenly jumps into your sight as you drive by, looming over the trees as if it had been playing hide and seek but now wants you to notice it. And it is obvious why it’s called Redhouse Castle, as it’s built with a distinctive red sandstone that, despite its age and weathering, still attracts the eye.

A garden centre now surrounds it, and earlier this year I made a trip there with my oldest daughter to try the cakes in the cafe. We sat in the shadow of the now ruined castle, its dark windows looking down on us.

But like so many old places, what we saw that day was only the tip of the iceberg. What remains is largely 16th and 17th century, but the site has much older origins. Indeed, an earlier castle of the same name seems to have existed here, evidence of which has been found under the 19th-century cottages close by.

The early castle may have emerged from a religious building and was likely much less grand than the later castle we see today. This earlier building first comes into the light of recorded history in 1421 when it was given to Christian de Ramsay by the Earl of Douglas. It seems to have been a kind of late medieval child support arrangement.

But history misses more than it records, and the oral storytelling tradition can often fill that gap. Oh no, many academic historians say, such tales are to be discounted because there are no contemporary written records. Well that’s because most folk couldn’t read or write, but they could still tell stories about what they had seen or what they had done.

It’s true such tales may be elaborated, even changed with time, but let us not forget that many of the contemporary records on which academic history is founded are themselves a fabric of half-truths and subjective opinion. Traditional stories make no claim to be the definitive truth, but they can contain as many truths and convey as much information about the past as any medieval chronicle.

These stories have flown down the wind of time. They have been told and re-told down the generations until someone finally catches them on paper. Such is the journey of this tale about Redhouse Castle, which was recorded by Peter McNeill more than 100 years ago.

The story takes us back to the early days of the 1400s when the castle was in the possession of the Douglas family. These were turbulent times in which invasion and cross-border raids were commonplace. There are many moments in the history of this period that fits the following tale.

The Lothians were being ravaged by an English invasion force. The Earl of Douglas had left Redhouse sometime previously with all the warriors he could muster, leaving instructions that the castle should be held if possible. Douglas’ plan to harry the invaders from the south had left Redhouse, perhaps the least of his possessions, vulnerable to attack.

The defence of the castle had been left to the warden Gilbert Rae and the housekeeper Jean Currie, although she was more than just the housekeeper. The now almost empty building had an eerie atmosphere. There was a sense of the calm before the storm. Jean scoured the horizon from the battlements, looking for signs of the enemy. Her heart was pounding, as was Gilbert’s, but for a different reason.

Jean was in her mid-30s, bonny, feisty and unmarried. And Gilbert, wifeless and now 40, hoped he could make an impression. Forgetting for a moment the urgent task of defending the castle, he decided to try and woo her. He sang to her, but this just solicited her derision. His frustration boiled over and he tried to kiss her in an unguarded moment, but Jean was of Douglas stock, and as such she knew how to defend her honour.

When Gilbert tried a second time, he was met with a fist in his face that sent him reeling. Her eyes then glanced at a dagger hanging on the wall. Gilbert noticed this. Then he realised what danger he had put himself into. Jean was kin with the laird, a powerful Douglas. He was dicing with death!

And so, in an act of submission, he took the dagger from the wall, then held the blade in the palm of his hand, and held it out to Jean. She took the dagger by the handle and stood for a moment, pointing it towards Gilbert. He then opened his tunic and exposed his chest to her. He was at her mercy.

Her eyes screwed, her fingers held the dagger tight. Then she raised it and with great force snapped it in two over her knee and threw the pieces into the corner.

Gilbert sighed with relief, but took this as a sign there was hope!

“When will you marry me, Jean?” he asked.

“I will ne’er be your servant,” she growled at him.

He shook his head, and this time spoke softy: “Never the humble servant lass, but the loving wife.” These words seemed to melt her resistance. There had indeed been passion for him beneath the surface, but she would not be forced by him. The broken dagger showed she had acted as befits a Douglas and now, with Gilbert’s acceptance of her status, she gave in.

I will not elucidate on the following scenes of passion but they were rudely interrupted by the sudden arrival of Gibbs, the laird’s page. He had been with his Douglas master but had been sent back to Redhouse with urgent news.

“There are 30 English horsemen, heavily armed, on their way,” he said in between catching his breath. “Our master entreats you to save the castle.” Gilbert and Jean looked at each other. How cruel that their just discovered love and desire for each other was now to be extinguished before it could set flame.

“Jean, should we arrange to defend the castle, and if so where will you be safest?” he asked her.

Jean’s defiant character burst through.

“Gilbert I have just promised to be your wife, and so by your side I will stand or fall. Fight to the death I will by your side, and it will not be with a broken dagger.” Then she paused, thinking. “But there is a better way to defend this castle, and keep our lives. If you decide on this course, I will play my part. I will meet these rough men with kindness and hospitality , and dare them to do us harm.” Gilbert thought for a moment and looked at Jean. He nodded and exclaimed: “Show temper and reap death, show kindness and avoid destruction! Let us live and save the castle!” Could they pull this off? Would it work? Save the castle and their lives?

Their minds raced with what needed to be done, and they set to work. Jean began preparing a great banquet. It would be a welcoming feast, and she would be the smiling and kindly host. Yet as she prepared the banquet the twist in her stomach told her that that she knew Gilbert’s life and her honour were in danger. There was no time to give into anxiety, however – too much to do.

Meanwhile, Gilbert had summoned Petrie, the laird’s piper.

“Set out into the countryside,” Gilbert told him, “and assemble every villager you can find. Tell them to bring what they have that can make noise, whatever they can muster, drums, sticks, pipes. Then lead them to the crow wood, and let them stand in the darkness of the night until the cry is raised ‘the Scots are advancing’. At that point you must lead them towards the castle, making as much din as you are able.” The piper nodded and vanished into the darkness.

The castle was soon ready. Not only had Jean prepared a table fit for a king, she had stored what valuables she could carry in the dungeon. Exhausted and riddled with stress, she had done what she could.

Gilbert ordered the page Gibbs to hide. It would be his job to run to the wood to give the order to advance, once Gilbert had given him the cue: “Bring forth the piper!” No sooner had the page squeezed into his hiding place than the sound of horses heralded the arrival of the English horsemen. Gilbert stood at the open castle gates and welcomed the soldiers. Their leader immediately demanded to see their Douglas laird.

Gilbert kept his nerve: “The Douglas is away with his men, but I am the warder and I bid thee welcome in the Douglas’ name. His daughter awaits within, with a groaning table and in the courtyard there is fodder for your horses.” “There is a stench of treachery here,” said one of the horsemen. But then Jean emerged.

“Welcome, gallant gentlemen, my father is away, but his hospitality awaits you.” She convinced them that all was genuine and sincere, and so the famished soldiers were soon dismounted and feasting in the hall.

They at first behaved with caution, but as the ale flowed they became more noisy and lecherous. Jean did her best to avoid lurching hands as she served her guests. It was time, thought Gilbert, to set the plan in motion.

“Bring forth the piper,” he called, and a shadow flashed past the open castle gates.

Moments later there was a cry, “the Scots are advancing!” It sounded like hundreds advancing through the wood, and the effect on the drunken soldiers was to sow panic.

They fled, mounting their horses and galloping into the darkness in full flight. Within moments the courtyard was empty of horses, except one. Jean heard a man shouting and when she opened a door he emerged. He had been locked in the room in his panic. He was the leader of the horsemen, and he fled, just in time to see the ‘army’ arrive.

And then, with poetic perfect timing, Douglas arrived with his men!

What a scene met the laird! The courtyard was full of people of all sorts, laughing, shouting, banging drums. The laird was well pleased and summoned his Jean.He then called for the warder.

“You have saved the castle, Gilbert Rae, how can I reward you?” asked the laird.

“Without your Jean I would not have been able to do so sire, and it is her hand that I request.” Douglas turned to his house keeper: “And what do you say, mistress Jean?” Her reply was emphatic: “He has won my heart, my Lord, at the dagger point, and here it is, so I have promised to marry him.” “You have wooed Jean as a Douglas should be wooed and so I consent to you marrying Jean of Redhouse,” said Douglas.

And maybe they lived happily ever after!