The Hermit of Treig: Man Lives 40 Years Without Electricity or Running Water…in Scotland

Survival
Ken Smith still from The Hermit of Treig documentary Photo BBC Scotland
Photo: BBC Scotland

Metaphorically and literally, Ken Smith is a man who lives on the fringes. For the past four decades, the 74-year-old has hewn an unconventional, off-grid life in Scotland’s rural Loch Treig. And the “Hermit of Treig” is the subject of an intimate documentary by filmmaker Lizzie McKenzie, who spent two years documenting Smith’s unconventional lifestyle.

Although many of us associate the wilderness hermit life with a log cabin in the Alaskan or Yukon wilderness, several eccentric wayfarers also call the Scottish Highlands home, according to The Guardian.

A brief history of a hermit

In Smith’s case, he had a lifelong love of wilderness and exploration and spent much of his early adulthood traveling the world on foot.

His decision to live reclusively transpired after Smith learned that his mother and father had passed away while he was on a 35,000km trek across Canada’s Yukon Territory. When he returned home to the news, his grief was so immense that the young Smith took to wandering across the UK.

In 1984, he came upon Loch Treig, the ‘lonely loch’ as he endearingly calls it. There, a two-hour walk from the nearest market, nestled in the Highlands, Smith built the humble log cabin that he has called home ever since. No electricity, no running water, no gas.

“The land loves you back.”

As a capable fisher and gardener, Smith has thrived off the land and nearby streams. The Hermit even brews beer and vints wine. He’s reportedly stored 80 gallons of homemade wine in anticipation of his funeral.

His way of existing is exceptionally sustainable, give or take his monthly supply run to town and a recent run-in with medical mishaps. “I think if you love the land, it sort of loves you back. It loves you back in all the things it produces for you,” Smith said.

For the most part, modern luxuries (which, in his view, include electricity, plumbing, and gas) aren’t particularly useful because they aren’t essential. The Hermit of Treig isn’t concerned with being “the most off-grid” person or garnering any such notoriety.

He owns a radio for weather forecasts, a wristwatch, a few cameras to help him remember things, and a GPS beacon, which he turns to “check-in” mode every Sunday for family and friends afar.

Ken Smith, still from 'The Hermit of Treig' documentaryPhoto BBC Scotland

Photo: BBC Scotland

In a bout of good luck, a friend gifted Smith the beacon in 2019, just days before he suffered a stroke. The Hermit sent out an SOS, which first pinged a station in Houston, Texas, before relaying to local Scottish responders. Emergency personnel helicoptered to the lonely loch and flew Smith to a hospital where he stayed until deemed recovered enough to return to Treig.

Owing to residual memory and vision impairments, Smith now pays for biweekly deliveries of supplies. Still, the elderly Scotsman remains considerably self-sufficient. And, contrary to the moniker, he maintains close relationships with family and friends made throughout his travels — through letter-writing, of course.

‘The Hermit of Treig’ Documentary

Smith’s longtime friend and film director, Lizzie McKenzie, offers a close look into his spirited, unconventional world in The Hermit of Treig ,which premiered on November 9 and is available to UK viewers through BBC Scotland.

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About the Author

Jilli Cluff

Jilli Cluff

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college.
After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life.
She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network.
She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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