- Steven Brocklehurst
- BBC Scotland News
For nearly 40 years, Ken Smith has eschewed conventional life, living without electricity or running water in a handcrafted log cabin on the shores of a remote lake in the Scottish Highlands.
“It’s a beautiful life,” says Ken. “Everyone wishes they could do it, but nobody does.”
Ken’s secluded and reclusive lifestyle of foraging and fishing, but also gathering firewood and washing clothes in an old outdoor tub is far from the ideal model for many of us. Especially at the age of 74.
His log cabin is a two hour walk from the nearest road on the edge of Rannoch Moor near Loch Treig.
“It’s called the lonely lake,” he says. “There is no road here, but people lived here before they built the dam.”
Looking down at the lake from the hill, he said, “All their ruins are down there.
Filmmaker Lizzie McKenzie first met Ken nine years ago and has been filming him for the BBC Scotland documentary The Hermit of Treig for the past two years [l’Ermite de Treig].
Ken tells how he started building fire stations at the age of 15.
But his life changed at the age of 26 when he was beaten up by a gang of thugs after a party.
He suffered a brain hemorrhage and was unconscious for 23 days.
“They said I would never recover. They said I would never speak again,” he says.
“They said I would never walk again, but I managed.
“That’s when I decided I would never live on anyone’s terms but my own,” he says.
Ken began to travel and became interested in the idea of the wild.
In the Yukon, Canada’s territory bordering Alaska, he wondered what would happen if he left the highway and “sent to nowhere.”
He did, claiming he eventually covered around 22,000 miles before returning home.
During his absence his parents died and he only found out when he returned.
“It took me a while to realize that,” he says. “I felt nothing.”
Ken was walking around the UK and was in Rannoch in the Scottish Highlands when he suddenly thought of his parents and started crying.
“I cried the whole walk,” he says.
“I was wondering: What is the most isolated place in Britain?” says Ken in the documentary.
“I went around and followed every cove where no house was built.
“Hundreds and hundreds of miles of nothing. I looked across the lake and saw this forest.”
He knew he had found the place where he wanted to stay.
Ken says that at this point he stopped crying and his constant wandering.
He set about building a log cabin after initially experimenting with the design using small sticks.
Four decades later, the cabin has a good log fire, but no electricity, gas, or running water, and most importantly, no cell phone reception.
Firewood has to be cut in the forest and transported to the remote animal shelter.
He grows vegetables and gathers berries, but his main source of food comes from the lake.
“If you want to learn to live independently, you have to learn to fish,” he says.
Ten days after director Lizzie left the cabin in February 2019, the dangers of Ken’s isolated existence were made clear when he suffered a stroke out in the snow.
He used a personal GPS tracking signal given to him days earlier to trigger an SOS, which was automatically sent to a response center in Houston, Texas.
He alerted the British Coastguard and Ken was flown to Fort William Hospital, where he spent seven weeks recovering.
Staff did what they could to ensure he could regain independent living and doctors attempted to get him back to civilization where he would have housing and caregivers. But Ken just wanted to go back to his cabin.
However, the “double vision” he suffered from after his stroke and his memory loss forced Ken to accept more help than before.
The leader of the trackers, who looks after the forest where Ken lives, brings him food every two weeks, which he pays for with his pension.
“People have been really nice to me lately,” says Ken.
A year after his initial rescue, Ken had to be flown again after being injured by a stack of logs collapsing on him.
But he says he’s not worried about his future.
“We weren’t put on earth forever,” says Ken.
“I will stay here until my last days come, that’s for sure.”
“I’ve had many incidents, but I seem to have survived them all.
“I’m definitely going to get sick again one day. Something is going to happen to me that will kill me one day, as it does with everyone.
“But I hope to get to 102.”