The air over the last few days has been cold, sometimes damp and often full of eerie stillness. It has also been beautiful. The clear crisp skies of last week allowed the sun full range to spread its weak but orange-tinted rays across the land.

Did you see the blankets of mist that clung onto the slopes of the Lammermuirs, made sparkling by the low-lying sun? Did you watch the early sunsets as they painted a surreal colour mix on the clouds as tired commuters began heading for home?

The cold has nipped our senses and damp broken leaves have clung to the soles of our shoes, reminding us that it was only very recently that the last summer died.

Winter is making its presence known. We know it is here now, but as yet we have no idea of its nature. It’s like a prowler in dark shadows; will it pounce on us fiercely or will it withhold its wrath? Despite modern predictions we still wait with baited breath for this winter to reveal its character.

But there is one thing of which we can be certain: the darkness. It descends on us suddenly and although we respond by defying it with Christmas lights and doing our best to make it cosy, there is no denying that most of us will tire of the darkness and yearn for spring, and the light and new life it brings.

You may have guessed I’m not really a winter person. I feel confined by it. The days are too short, nature lies dormant and I often wish I could be a bear and hibernate until the sweet smell of spring wakes me.

It’s often when we travel that winter’s dominance affects us most. Roads become treacherous, and we must negotiate the darkness. But we have the comfort of modern travel, decent roads, and the glare of headlights. When I’m on a bus, sitting cosy at the back by the engine, arms folded and half snoozing, I often give thanks that my journey through the winter darkness is made so easy and risk free.

What must it have been like for the travellers in the 18th century who had to negotiate their way over the Lammermuirs? The road to the south from Gifford rises into the cold at winter time. It remains an adventure to take this road when winter has tightened its grip. But in those days a journey this way was best begun at the beginning of the day. Set off too late and then the curtain of darkness could engulf you and leave you lost in the moors and peat bogs.

And so at the base of the hills, just at the beginning of this route south, there was an old Inn at Danskein (now known as Danskine). It was described by Robert Chambers as “a march stone marking the fertile lowlands of East Lothian and the wild uplands of Lammermuir”.

Chambers travelled this way in the 1820s. His purpose was to collect tales and memories of the area. And when he arrived at Danskein, he encountered “a legend of truly fearful character”.

The inn was in many ways like an oasis on the edge of a desert. Travellers would stop for the night, enjoy the hospitality and set off early the next morning with the maximum of daylight hours available for travel.

On one occasion, a mounted traveller arrived one early morning seeking some breakfast and time to rest before heading further south. He was mysterious and the landlord was a bit suspicious. But business is business and the traveller was welcomed at this unusual hour and his needs met.

The landlord, who met all types, of course, was very good at small talk and finding out about his guest’s lives. But as he served this customer, all his usual lines of enquiry were met by a reluctance to give any information.

Who was this mysterious traveller? And where had he spent the night, given that he arrived at the inn just as morning was breaking? Did he live nearby? What was the purpose of his journey? What was his business? What was his name? The landlord could find out nothing. The traveller answered the landlord’s questions without really answering: “Och nearby. Tae get tae where I’m going. Tae find oot the truth o’ the matter. Ma name is o’ nae consequence.” And so the landlord left him eating in solitude. After a hearty breakfast, the traveller called for his bill. The landlord watched as the mysterious guest delved into his pocket and took out a very full-looking purse. He fumbled with it, searching for the correct coins. It looked like he was travelling with a small fortune.

This just made the landlord all the more curious. Who would travel with such a heavy purse? Perhaps this mysterious man was a robber? He was dressed roughly, without style, yet he had a small fortune on him. His horse was of good quality, yet his clothes were simple. It didn’t add up.

“Ye maun tak care oot oan the hills,” said the landlord as his guest prepared himself to leave. “The weather is nae friend tae man or beast at this time o’ year and folk roond here ken that a wolf stalks the way tae Duns.” “A wolf?” asked the traveller, suddenly taking interest in what the landlord was saying.

“Och aye,” said the landlord, “folk say it’s a white wolf. It stalks the road at this time o’ year an mony a traveller has vanished as a result.” The traveller nodded his head in recognition. “Aye, I have heard something o’ that,” he said. “People have vanished oan the moor, but I ay thocht the tale o’ the wolf wis just auld wimmin’s talk.” “Auld wimmin hae mair sense than we ken,” replied the landlord. Then he added: “I am quiet this time o’ year, and have a room for ye if ye decide ye dinnae want tae venture ony further.” It wasn’t an offer made out of kindness or hospitality of course, but business. This man had money, lots of it.

But the traveller was determined to be on his way. He thanked the landlord for his service and mounted his horse. The landlord watched as the mysterious traveller merged into the moorland.

It was a day on the fringe of winter. The low-lying sun was streaming across the moorland, but it didn’t have the power to lift the cold hanging mist that clung onto the heather. It was eerily quiet, and the main sound the traveller could hear was that of his horse snorting and breathing as it climbed steeply further into the hills.

Then, suddenly, another sound filled the air. The traveller pulled his horse to and scoured the moor with his eyes. The sound was unmistakable. It was a horse galloping at full speed. It was coming from behind him and when he turned round he saw a man on a horse approaching rapidly.

It was the landlord of Danskein Inn. As he approached, the traveller could make out that the landlord had a pistol in his right hand.

Frozen onto his saddle, the traveller watched as the landlord raised his hand and fired the pistol.

The shot whizzed past the traveller harmlessly, but the landlord began to re-load. The traveller lost no time. He reached into his saddle bag and brought out a bugle. He put it to his lips and blew as hard as he could. The landlord was startled at first, then burst into laughter.

“Ye think the dragoons will help ye?” said the landlord. “Naebody will hear ye up hear, and naebody will find ye either ance I’m done wi ye. Another victim of the wolf!” he said menacingly.

The landlord was a murderer and a robber. What better job to have than run an inn on the edge of a moor, where travellers would stop for the night? Many never made it for breakfast, others who passed by were likewise confronted on the deserted moor by the landlord.

Now this mysterious traveller was going to be his next victim. Or so the landlord thought.

For this mysterious traveller was none other than the Marquis of Tweeddale. He lived only a couple of miles from Danskein, but had heard rumours of people going missing after visiting the inn.

Nothing was proved, for the landlord took the evidence of his crimes onto the moor where the peat bog kept the secret. But this was now all the evidence the Marquis needed. Men sprang from the heather the moment the bugle was sounded. It was a trap set by the Marquis.

The landlord, suddenly realising, he had been fooled, tried to make his escape. But the Marquis had set men in all directions. Shots rang out, the landlord fell from his horse, and was quickly apprehended by the Marquis’ men.

“I should’ve kent it, I should’ve kent it,” said the landlord as he struggled.

Justice was swift. But how many victims fell prey to the landlord of Danskein we do not know. Soon these grisly events fell into memory and legend. Until a hundred years later when another traveller called Robert Chambers came close to Danskein and was told the tale. He recorded the main points of it, but much else is left to the imagination.

Is this legend of “fearful character” rooted in historical fact, or merely a tale garnished and handed down with extra seasoning added with each telling? Who knows, but it certainly makes a trip to Danskein extra atmospheric. And when travelling that road on a misty, eerie still winter morning, the tale always comes to mind.

And as for the tale of the white wolf, well that is another of the Lammermuir’s legends. Perhaps the landlord created it to explain the disappearance of so many travellers, but I think the legend was already so well known that he could refer to it as the reason why his victims had vanished and so dispel suspicions about himself.

I will, of course, return to the legend of the white wolf. But that will be for another day.

In the meantime, happy and safe travels this wintertime.