The darkness when the clocks go back always takes me by surprise, which it shouldn’t because I know it’s coming and have experienced it many times.

But suddenly it’s dark when people are returning from work and we are forced indoors. It seems only recently we could go for an evening walk in the sunshine.

When you live in the city, the arrival of the dark times doesn’t have the same effect. Thousands of bright street lights, decorated shop windows, supermarkets blazing neon illumination onto the street all act to eclipse nature’s cycle.

But in smaller communities and in rural areas, the darkness is heavier. The absence of colour and life in the landscape is also more obvious, and makes the impending arrival of winter more keenly felt.

And Hallowe’en marks this transformation.

Some feel uneasy about celebrating Hallowe’en, because it seems to them somehow sinister. For me, the most sinister thing about Hallowe’en is the commodification of an ancient Celtic festival which traditionally marked the end of the productive year, and the beginning of the winter. It has become big business, just as Christmas has, with the shops full of stuff to buy.

But that is, of course, inevitable, and, rather than moan about it, I have come to a recognition that we can choose whether to buy into it or not. And I choose not to.

But the other traditional aspects of this time of year I love. Dressing up and guising is an ancient tradition rooted in the belief that spirits may venture into our world at this time. We can fool them and ward them off with disguises and tumshie lanterns. Yet this is not a celebration of evil but rather a recognition that the spirits of our ancestors can indeed walk with us, even if only in remembrance.

So the best part of Hallowe’en is that it’s seen as a time of community gathering, a festival when people feel the desire to collect together and make merriment and create light in defiance of the darkness, and in honour of those who have been before us. Traditionally, bonfires were lit at this time, rather than November 5, which has more recent political and religious origins.

Here in Scotland, Hallowe’en was originally called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) and may have also marked the Celtic New Year. The name Hallowe’en actually derives from the Christian festival of All Hallow’s Eve.

So the origins of Hallowe’en are culturally mixed up, but with one common theme: a marking of the arrival of the dark time of year and a recognition that the spirits of our ancestors remain in some way with us.

In other countries, people visit the graveyards of their ancestors at this time. They visit at night in the dark, but the graveyards are decorated and lit up with thousands of candles. The living become ghostly shadows walking through the flickering candlelight in the resting place of their ancestors. It is ‘a night of the dead’ but it’s not sinister, rather it is an incredibly moving and beautiful sight, and to be honest I wish we did it here as well.

But there is also no doubting that the darkness of this time shivers our spines, that the crisp moonlight casts faint night-time shadows, and shapes and silhouettes seem to lurk with evil intent at night. The cold, dark nights have for generations forced people to huddle together in a communal act of survival.

It is no wonder that in such circumstances people wanted to hear spooky tales of ghosts, witches and supernatural happenings. The atmosphere kind of demands it.

Today, many people therefore have horror movie nights for Hallowe’en. I personally have never liked this clichéd genre of movie. But I suppose in a sense they are part of an older storytelling Hallowe’en tradition of telling tales that are designed to frighten or unease.

Two hundered years ago, children would pile into Clegham Lizzie’s house to hear such tales. One of her favourite Hallowe’en tales was of the hare of Dingleton, near Drem, which had been one told to her when she was wee. She had no doubt embellished it, but that is the storyteller’s prerogative.

I can imagine the children and their parents huddling around this old storyteller, the core of eaten dooked apples lying around her dusty floor as silence beckoned her to begin.

“Draw nearer, bairns,” she would say, “dinnae be feart, weel, no o’ me onyway.” She would begin the tale by asking her usually young audience if they had ever seen a “Maukin”. This was an old Scots word for a hare. Usually the answer was yes, and so she would explore their image of these spectacular creatures.

Very occasionally, people mistake them for rabbits, but a rabbit is so much smaller and timid. It’s the size of a hare that impresses you first. They are often in open fields, and they run incredibly fast, up to 45mph; and they can make incredible leaps into the air.

“Some folk say they hae seen maukins fly,” Lizzie would add, screwing up her eyes and scanning the audience.

“Anyone seen yin fly?” she would then ask.

Inevitably, a younger member of the audience would say they had. Some would laugh, but then Lizzie would add a chill: “Dinnae laugh at things ye dinnae ken, in case yer laughter is heard.” “Heard by who?” someone would ask She wouldn’t answer, but stare out of the window into the darkness, then return her gaze to the now spooked audience.

So she would tell her tale: “Hae ye noticed that a maukin will stare at ye? Just like a cat? Weel there was aince a maukin wha bade close tae Drem. Naebody kent fir sure where it came from. It would just appear in the fields, and some said they saw it fly.

“Yin day a fairmer wis oot walkin checkin oan his cattle in a field by Dingleton. Then he suddenly saw a maukin as muckle as he’d ever seen. He swore that it was as large as a dug. He stood staring at it and wished he hud brocht his gun.

“He raised his stick and shouted at it, as he wanted tae watch it run. But instead it raised itself on its hind legs and looked at the fairmer. It didnae just look at him though, it stared at him, unfeart.

“The fairmer walked towards the creature, but it didnae move. It just kept staring at him.

“Then the fairmer stopped. The maukin’s stare sent a shiver doon his spine, something wasnae richt. Sae he ca’d on his collie dugs, who came barking.

“This stopped the maukin staring at him, its lang lugs pricking up, then, like flash o’ lichtening, it bolted as the dugs chased it.

“The maukin ran in circles, and leapt owre the dugs, mocking their attempts tae catch it. Then it suddenly headed fir the fairmer’s hoose at Dingleton. The dugs chased it but it seemed tae vanish, leaving the hounds sniffing and confused.” Lizzie would then pause in the telling of the tale. She would know many would have seen such a hare. Then she’d continue.

“The fairmer wis uneasy, an telt his wife: ‘That maukin is up tae nae guid, and where did it gang tae?’ he wondered. She just looked at him and said naeting.

“Owre the next months the fairmer searched wi his dugs fir the maukin’s form, but cud find nae sign o’ it, or the creature. It seemed tae hae vanished. Maybe it didnae survive the winter, he thocht. But then, the following March, when he’d almaist forgotten aboot it, he saw it agin!

“This time he didnae waste ony time, and set his dugs oan the creature immediately. The maukin was taken by surprise this time, and the dugs were half upon it afore it stairted tae run. It leapt tae an fro, but the dugs had its measure.

“Aince agin the creature headed fir Dingleton, this time wi the collie dugs richt oan its tail. Yin o’ them managed tae bite yin o’ the hind legs o’ the maukin. The creature let oot a strange cry, then as it approached the hoose it agin vanished oot o’ sicht.

“When the fairmer arrived he saw his dugs sniffing and searching in front o’ his hoose, but there was nae sign o’the maukin.

“It had got away again, but how? It seemed tae huv vanished intae thin air! Where wis it?” Lizzie would pause again to see if the audience had figured out the answer. Most of them would have, but would wait for Lizzie to make the revelation: “The fairmer was scunnered. How did that maukin get awa frae his dugs after it had been bitten oan the leg?

“He searched wi his dugs but tae nae avail, the maukin hud got awa again! Sae the fairmer went back tae his hoose tae tell his wife.

“When he opened the door he got a shock. There was his beloved wife, lying oan the flair, with a broken leg, which was bleeding frae a wound.

“‘Whit’s happened ma darling?’ he asked her as he crouched doon tae tak care o’ her. She wis breathing hard, panting as if she’s bin running.

“Then he looked at her wounded leg. It wis a dug bite! Then he realised his wife wis a witch!” This tale has a common theme, of course, and there are many examples of it. Hares and cats are both animals associated with witchcraft, and it’s interesting that maukin can refer to both.

It’s a spooky idea that someone in your house can be something you don’t suspect, and the connection to a real wild animal makes the tale all the more believable in times when such things were considered truly possible.

Today, away from the horrific times of witch burning of innocent women, we can tell this tale without fear. But a mere 300 years ago, such a story would not only be believed literally but result in persecution.

Fortunately, Clegham Lizzie lived in times when such folk tales could be told and enjoyed without such real horrors. The spookiness lies in the telling and the idea that anyone can be a shape shifter; even your mum, your brother or your neighbour.

But such tales also connect us to nature, and that is also within the Samhain tradition.

Hares don’t live underground, of course, but make cosy nests in sheltered corners of the countryside. But have you ever seen where they live? They seem to appear and disappear, as if by magic. Then in early spring they are out in force, and can even be seen boxing each other.

It doesn’t take much imagination to believe that they are witches fighting each other.

So next time you see a hare, watch it closely, and if it stares at you, perhaps it knows you better than you think!