FOLK in Fife can blame it on the bats. Then again, perhaps their timely appearance in Aikwood Tower was just a mirage conjured up by sly Borderers. Both areas have lain claim to Michael Scott - a twelfth-century philosopher, astrologer and translator whose works helped pave the way for the Renaissance. But it has been his transformation, after death, into a mythic wizard figure that continues to endure in Scottish folklore.

Most recently, Scott has cast a spell over a BBC production team:

The is the inspiration behind Peter Mullan's character in the hit children's series Shoebox Zoo - due to return for a second run in October. But children in Fife and the Borders were raised on stories about Scot's devilish pursuits long before that series was ever conceived.

Louise Yeoman was one such youngster whose grandfather wove tales of the fantastic, as they walked on Kirkcaldy beach in Fife. Now in her thirties, and a historian, Yeoman has decided to re-tell the "wizard's tale" in a radio programme.

Of the mysterious figure said to have inhabited the town's Balwearie Tower, she recalls: "Children in the area are raised on fertile stories of Scott's pursuits like when he set the devil to twine the sand of Kirkcaldy beach or f lew off on an airborne black horse to visit Paris.

There is even said to be a mark of the horse's hoof in the launch pad where the horse was supposed to have taken off from in the tower.

"Most people think the only famous faces of K irkcaldy are Adam Smith and Gordon Brown, but they forget about Michael Scott."

But there is something of a spanner in the works - because young Borderers are being brought up on similar tales of devilish pacts. The only difference is that, for them, the legendary Scott resides in Aikwood Tower in the Borders.

It was only in adulthood, while working for the National Library of Scotland, that Yeoman came to realise the Borders' counter-claim on her wizard. She decided a truce was called-for after chatting to Gavin Bowd, a lecturer in French at St Andrews University, who is now writing the first modern biography of Scott. "Gavin was raised in the Borders and the radio programme is a joint venture between us. It really is a bit of a Fife/Borders alliance, " laughs Yeoman.

In her investigations, she visited the towers for the first time. "I visited both towers and, okay, I am from Fife, but I have to say that finding bats in Aikwood gave it that slight edge. It definitely has to get some points for authenticity, " says Yeoman.

Described the towers as "contrasting", she adds: "Balwerie is ruined, but it has f lowers growing out of the walls, so in that sense it seemed a bit too jolly to be a wizard's tower. Yet, in other ways I looked at the vast walls and thought 'I wonder if . . . ?'" Aikwood, meanwhile, is a "working tower" in that it has been restored by its present owners, Lord Steel and his wife, Judy. (Lady Steel is also a scholar of Walter Scott and James Hogg - writers who both took inspiration from Scott. ) "If you let imagination run in both towers, you could see why people spin stories about them, " says Yeoman.

"Aikwood is very impressive to look at. Its dark defensible buildings are very Tolkien in stature. It was really quite intriguing to investigate how the myths got attached to that tower. I looked at the masonry marks on the fireplace and they are a similar shape to the crescent moons on the Scott family coat-of-arms."

Aikwood even has its very own black cat. Called "Michael Scott" the feline is, in fact, female. "The Steels don't have a problem with that, " laughs Yeoman. "After all, if wizards can change shapes down the ages, why can't they change gender?"

Adding a further touch of verisimilitude, the cat was also found "massacring pheasant chicks" on the morning of Yeoman's visit. A sign, surely?

But no, says the historian - because the mystery deepened further when, through her investigations, she found lairds going by the name of Michael Scott as far back as the thirteenth century in Fife - although only to the sixteenth century in the Borders. "The truth is, no-one really knows where in Scotland he came from. No-one can say for definite."

But while his true home looks likely to be the subject of debate for many years to come, what is known about the man is that he spent time abroad making a bit of a name for himself. "He got a reputation as a very learned man, " says Yeoman.

"He left Scotland for Toledo about 1210 where he learned Arabic and immersed himself in the intellectual currents of what had only recently been Muslim Spain."

Familiarising himself with Jewish and Arabic works of learning and with the works of Aristotle - which at that time were known to the Arab world, but mostly unknown in non-Muslim Europe - he forged a reputation to such an extent that he was "head-hunted" by none other than the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II.

"He became Frederick's pet astrologer and philosopher, " says Yeoman. "Astrology was considered very important at that time because it was often used to try to predict the outcome of battles. He would also wrestle with philosophical questions posed by Frederick such as "where is God?" and "what causes rainbows?"

But, according to Yeoman, the pair also had enemies who subjected them to a bit of "black propaganda". She believes it is this "bad press" that led to the notion of Scott as a dark wizard.

Experiments they were accused of conducting included drowning someone in a wine casket, weighed before and after death to see if the soul had escaped. They were also said to have kept two men awake during the night in a bid to analyse the effect sleep deprivation had on the digestive system. Both "guinea pigs" were said to have been slaughtered afterwards.

But, whatever the truth of the rumours, the emperor eventually found himself "a new best pal" and, according to the historian, Scott fell out of favour. "No-one really knows what happened to him after this point, " says Yeoman. "At some time late in life, he may have returned to the British Isles."

But his fame as an astrologer, reinforced by the notoriety of his employer, was such that many prophecies of the coming of Antichrist were attributed to him.

He also acquired an abiding reputation as a wizard and folklore spread on the continent about his supernatural powers. Even Dante in the fourteenth century, was so impressed that he put Scott into his Inferno. Granted, the great Italian poet places Scott in the circle of hell reserved for the sorcerers - with his head turned weeping over his buttocks, no less. But, as the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad publicity, for later in the same century Boccaccio, in his Decameron, simply had Scott down as a great master of necromancy.

"Everyone wanted to lay claim to the man as his fame grew, " says Yeoman.

But Scott found the greatest recognition in his homeland, five centuries later, when he appeared in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, the epic poem by Sir Walter Scott in 1805. Here he was portrayed as the undead wizard buried in Melrose Abbey with his Book of Might.

"This was the bestseller of its day and it was part of what really established Scott in Borders folklore, " says Yeoman.

James Hogg also found fertile fodder in the man's reputation in 1822 when he was inspired to include him in The Three Perils of Man, which is regarded by many as Hogg's most ambitious work.

"In that work he appears as the host of a very wizardly dinner party and he is also shown cleaving the Eildon Hills, " says Yeoman.

But how similar does she believe the Peter Mullan character - also called Michael Scott - is to the real figure? "Well, the Shoebox Zoo character really thinks he is 'nae small drink' and that he knows it all, " says Yeoman. "So in that respect he is probably not unlike the real guy. During Scott's time, if you needed to see off your adversaries you did need to know better answers than anyone else. You needed to really make people believe you have the secrets of wisdom. If you were asked, 'how do rainbows work?' you really needed to know how and why."

Yet, despite the metamorphosis of the man into a malevolent supernatural being, the real Scott also wrote books that became bestsellers after his death. "He wrote books about body language, and the right time to have sex and was very interested in physiognomy (face reading) . If he were alive now, he would do well writing for women's magazines, " says Yeoman.

She stops short, however, of saying there was a hidden "softer side" to Scott. "If any court lady who came up to Scott asking him to use his famed astrological powers to predict if she would marry a particular lord, I imagine she would have received short shrift from him.

But all the ladies probably found him too forbidding to go anywhere near him anyway, " she says.

A Wizard Tale, Monday, September 5, on Radio Scotland at 11.30am. The programme is presented by Louise Yeoman who co-produced it with Gavin Bowd.