I often visit Longniddry to go walking in the nearby countryside. It is one of the wonders of the place, as soon you are lost in old pathways that weave around the fields.

It’s an ancient community which once had a castle, although the castle is now just a ghost, a tree-covered mound.

It’s a prosperous place these days but in the 18th century Longniddry was an agricultural community of mostly poor folk of various trades.

Yet we are told by the 19th-century antiquarian Robert Chambers that the inhabitants of Longniddry in those times did not allow their poverty to undermine their ability to welcome visitors with generous hospitality.

I actually think it is generally true that poor folk are much more generous than rich folk, and that the poor’s generosity is born of empathy rather than a desire to be seen to be doing good. The simple acts of kindness and hospitality by those who have little themselves usually go unrecorded, but are always remembered by those who received the kindness. Occasionally such an act is remembered in a tale. Names are lost in the telling and retelling, but the essence of the human experience remains. Such is the case of the tale of the Gudewife o’ Lang Niddry: One raw night there was a knock at the door of one of the poor thatched hovels that once made up the wee town of Longniddry.

Standing outside there was a traveller, cold to the bone.

“Come in, come in,” said the gudewife immediately, “and sit yersel doon by the fire.” With gratitude, the traveller entered. The family were huddled around a small flickering fire, but a family member moved and made space for him. He sat with outstretched hands, warming himself as best he could.

The gudewife stared at him. “Are ye hungry?” she asked.

“Aye,” he replied, “if ye hae ony breid I wud be gratefu, I’ve no eaten since yestreen.” “Weel we huv already hud oor supper but I’ll fetch ye something frae the storehoose,” replied the gudewife.

She wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and went outside into the cold night, while he remained sitting by the hearth with the rest of the family. Few words were said between them as they all watched the flickering flames.

After a while the gudewife returned holding a wooden bowl of hot steaming broth.

She gave it to the traveller, who hungrily devoured it. The family watched the traveller as he slurped and gulped.

“Ye are a braw cook, madam,” he said with glistening lips, “and it is still hot, ye maun hae just finished yer supper yersels.” The family gave each other strange looks. When the traveller was finished eating the gudewife showed him a warm corner in which he could sleep away the night.

The traveller slept soundly, and in the morning he gave his thanks and made his farewells. Then just as he had left the village he realised he’d forgotten his bonnet and so returned to Longniddry. But as he entered the village he saw something strange.

The gudewife who had been so kind to him the previous night was carrying an empty wooden bowl. She entered a house on the edge of the village as if it was her own, but when she emerged a few moments later she no longer had the bowl. Then she suddenly noticed the traveller looking at her, but instead of speaking to him she said nothing and briskly headed for her own house.

When the traveller arrived at her door he knocked and the husband answered. The bonnet was quickly found and the traveller once again said his thanks and farewells.

He walked a few paces but then turned to the husband. “Please tell me, for I am curious,” said the traveller, “why was yer gudewife delivering an empty bowl tae the hoose yonder?” “Och, it’s the way we dae things here,” replied the husband as he closed the door.

The traveller was none the wiser but now somewhat intrigued. What did he mean? So he decided to find out.

He knocked on the door of the house on the edge of the village.

A woman answered the door “May I ask why that gudewife delivered tae ye an empty bowl?” he enquired.

“She wis returning it,” replied the woman.

The traveller looked confused, so she explained.

“Ye see, a hungry traveller arrived at her hearth last nicht, but it wasnae a nicht that they hud the pot oan. Sae she hud tae gang roond the village tae find some broth,” she told him.

“So the broth I enjoyed last nicht was made by ye!” said the traveller in surprise.

“Weel if ye are the hungry traveller that will be the case,” she said.

And so the traveller realised why the family had watched him so closely as he’d eaten the broth. The traveller had arrived on a “non pot nicht”. The family’s own supper that night had been meagre and nothing was left. But he was an unexpected guest, cold and hungry.

And so the gudewife had left not to the storehouse but to her neighbours to ask if they had anything spare in their pot for her guest.

All her neighbours were likewise poor, but she knew that they would share if they had anything left to give.

It was just the way of the village, as recorded later by Robert Chambers. Nobody expected anything in return for helping a neighbour, except the same in return if they ever found themselves with a visitor on a “non pot nicht”.

Such acts of neighbourly co-operation and simple kindness usually go unrecorded. But they are taking place every day and everywhere. And more often than not, it is those who already have little who will give the most.