The man who has lived as a hermit for 40 years

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Do you ever dream of escaping civilization and living alone surrounded by nature? Ken Smith did, and he succeeded. For the last 40 years, he lived as a hermit in a homemade cabin with no running water or electricity near a remote lake in the Scottish Highlands. “It’s a nice life,” Smith said. “Everybody wishes they could do it but nobody ever does.”

The man who has lived as a hermit for 40 years
wooden cabin with a stone chimney

However, Smith’s lifestyle isn’t for everyone. At the age of 74, he forages and fishes for food, washes his clothes in an old bathtub outside, and collects firewood. His cabin and lake are so isolated, it takes two hours to walk to the nearest road. “It’s known as the lonely loch,” he says. “There’s no road here but they used to live here before they built the dam.”

Filmmaker Lizzie McKenzie contacted Smith nine years ago, and for two years, she filmed and interviewed him for the documentary The Hermit of Treig. There, she captures his story.

Smith came from Derbyshire where he started working when he was 15; he built fire stations, which possibly gave him the skills to create his cabin. However, when he was 26, he was accosted by a gang of thugs who beat him brutally. He 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 began to travel, particularly through natural landscapes. While traveling in the Canadian Yukon territory, he wondered what life would be like if he walked from the road toward nowhere. And he did. He walked about 22,000 miles.

When he returned home to Derbyshire, he learned that both of his parents had passed away while he was gone. He had no idea this occurred until he arrived. “It took a long while to hit me,” he said. “I felt nothing.”

Ken with his log cabin soon after it was built in the early 1980s
Kevin Smith in the 1980s. Image Credit: Kevin Smith via the BBC

Finding Home

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,” Smith said in the documentary. I thought, where is the most isolated place in Britain?” And he began to explore the countryside. “Hundreds and hundreds of miles of nothingness. I looked across the loch and saw this woodland.” [1]

That’s when he found the place to build his future home. He stopped crying and wandering at the same time. He began to build his log cabin, first practicing the design with a bundle of small sticks. And 40 years later, the cabin has a fireplace for heating, but no gas, running water, electricity, and no Wi-Fi or phone signal.

His days are filled with chopping and carrying wood, growing vegetables, foraging for berries, and fishing. In fact, 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 said. Plus, he brews his own beer and wine. [2]

The Peril of Living Alone

However, the dangers of living like a hermit caught up with Smith. Ten days after McKenzie wrapped the documentary and left, Smith suffered a stroke, falling outside in the snow. Fortunately, he was given a GPS locator beacon a few days earlier. He used it to send an SOS to a response center in Houston, Texas. The center notified the UK coastguard, who succeeded in airlifting Smith to a hospital in Fort William.

Smith stayed in the hospital for seven weeks. During that time, the doctors tried to convince him to leave his hermit ways and rejoin society. But Smith was determined to return to his isolated cabin. However, “double vision” and memory loss lingered after the stroke, which forced Smith to accept help from others. For instance, the head stalker of the estate brings him food every couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, Smith was injured in a log pile collapse, which led to him being airlifted and hospitalized for the second time in just over a year. Nevertheless, Smith looks forward to his future in his continued solitude. “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.”

Ken Smith's Life Of Solitude  | The Hermit of Treig | BBC Scotland


  1. “The man who has lived as a hermit for 40 years.” BBC. Steven Brocklehurst. November 8, 2021
  2. “Meet Ken Smith Who Has Lived as a Hermit in Scottish Highlands for 40 Years.” News 18. November 12, 2021

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