Do you sometimes imagine escaping civilization and living alone in nature?
Ken Smith did it, successfully!
He lived as a hermit in a homemade cabin with no running water or electricity near a remote lake in the Scottish Highlands, for the last 40 years.
“It’s a nice life,”
he said. “Everybody wishes they could do it but nobody ever does.”
A Man Lives as a Hermit in a Cabin in the Wilderness
However, his way of living isn’t for everyone. He is 74 years old, yet he forages and fishes for food, washes his clothes in an old bathtub outside, and collects firewood. His cabin and lake are so isolated, that the nearest road is two hours far away, walking distance. “It’s known as the lonely loch,” Smith says. “There’s no road here but they used to live here before they built the dam.”
Nine years ago, filmmaker Lizzie McKenzie contacted this 74-year-old man, and for two years, she filmed and interviewed him for the documentary The Hermit of Treig. There, she pictures Smith’s story.
He came from Derbyshire where he started working at the age of 15; he built fire stations, which is probably where he learned how to create his cabin. At the age of 26, he was accosted by a gang of thugs who beat him severely. Smith suffered from a brain hemorrhage and fell into a coma for 23 days. “They said I would never recover… They said I would never walk again but I did. That’s when I decided I would never live on anyone’s terms but my own.”
So he started traveling, particularly through natural landscapes. While traveling in the Canadian Yukon territory, he asked himself what life would be like if he walked from the road toward nowhere. And he did, and walked about 22,000 miles.
When he got back home to Derbyshire, he found out that both of his parents had passed away while he was gone. He had no clue about this until he returned. “It took a long while to hit me,” Smith said. “I felt nothing.”
The loss hit him while walking across Britain. He was at Rannoch in the Scottish Highlands when he thought about his parents and broke down crying. “I cried all the way while walking,” he opened in the documentary. “I thought, where is the most isolated place in Britain?” And he started exploring the countryside. “Hundreds and hundreds of miles of nothingness. I looked across the loch and saw this woodland.”
And then Smith found the place to build his new home. He stopped crying and wandering at the same time. He started building his log cabin, first trying out the design with a bundle of small sticks. Fast forward 40 years, his home has a fireplace for heating, but no gas, running water, electricity, and no Wi-Fi or phone signal.
He spends his days chopping and carrying wood, growing vegetables, foraging for berries, and fishing. Actually, the lake provides the brunt of his diet. “If you want to learn how to live an independent life, what you have to do is learn how to fish,” he explained. Also, he brews his own beer and wine.
The Peril of Living Alone
Yet, the dangers of living like a hermit caught up with him. Ten days after McKenzie finished the documentary and left, Smith suffered a stroke, falling outside in the snow. Luckily, a few days earlier he was given a GPS locator beacon, and with its help, he sent an SOS to a response center in Houston, Texas. The center notified the UK coastguard, who successfully airlifted Smith to a hospital in Fort William.
He was at the hospital for seven weeks. All this time, the doctors tried to convince Smith to leave his hermit ways and rejoin society. But he was determined to return to his isolated home. Yet, “double vision” and memory loss occurred after the stroke, which forced him to accept help from others. For example, the head stalker of the estate brings him food every couple of weeks.
Sadly, Smith was injured in a log pile collapse, and he had to be airlifted again and hospitalized for the second time in just over a year. Despite all that, he looks forward to his future and continuing with his isolated life. “We weren’t put on earth forever. I’ll stop here until my final days come, definitely. I have had lots of incidents but I seem to have survived them all… Something will happen to me that will take me away one day as it does for everybody else. But I’m hoping I’ll get to 102.”