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Way back… into the wild: Photos reveal hermit Ken Smith, 74, as a younger man

Photos of hermit Ken Smith in his younger days show him fishing and posing proudly next to the remote woodland cabin he built for himself in the 1980s.   

Ken, 74, has lived alone in the cabin for almost 40 years after resolving to ‘never live on anyone’s terms’ but his own. The pensioner lives in a log cabin which he built himself on the banks of Loch Treig, in Lochaber, where his main source of food comes from fishing.

He has survived for almost four decades in the Scottish Highlands with no electricity, gas or running water – relying on a log fire to keep him warm. Derbyshire-born Ken also forages for berries and grows his own vegetables, and to this day chops up his own firewood and washes his clothes in an old bath outside. 

Ken’s incredible story was revealed in a BBC Scotland documentary that aired yesterday. ‘It’s a nice life,’ Ken says in the programme. ‘Everybody wishes they could do it but nobody ever does.’ 

For the past two years, filmmaker Lizzie McKenzie has been recording Ken for her documentary The Hermit of Treig, reports the BBC.  

Now, photos reveal the hermit posing proudly next to his cabin after he finished building it in the 1980s. Another photo shows him grinning after catching some fish. 

Ken goes on regular missions to get medication and other supplies, getting up at 4am, hiking three hours to catch the train to Fort William where he fills up his 70 litre rucksack with enough supplies for three to four weeks before repeating the journey in reverse. 

Photos from his cabin show him with soup and newspapers, just some of the supplies he seemingly collects every month. 

He decided to shun modern life aged 26 when Ken, who used to build fire stations, was beaten up by a gang of thugs after a night out. But after suffering a stroke in 2019, he now suffers from blurred vision and memory loss, meaning he has had to accept help from outsiders. 

Ken Smith pictured in the 1980s, shortly after his move to the Scottish Highlands. The log cabin (pictured) has no electricity, gas or running water

Ken mostly lives off the fish in the loch and had long been interested in nature and living in the wilderness

Ken mostly lives off the fish in the loch and had long been interested in nature and living in the wilderness

Ken Smith (pictured), 74, has survived for almost four decades in the Scottish Highlands with no electricity, gas or running water - relying on a log fire to keep him warm

Ken Smith (pictured), 74, has survived for almost four decades in the Scottish Highlands with no electricity, gas or running water – relying on a log fire to keep him warm

Ken Smith forages for berries near the banks of Loch Treig in the Scottish Highlands, where he has lived in a cabin for almost 40 years

Ken Smith forages for berries near the banks of Loch Treig in the Scottish Highlands, where he has lived in a cabin for almost 40 years 

He lives on the remote Loch Treig in Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands and the log cabin, which he built himself, is a two-hour walk from the nearest road

He lives on the remote Loch Treig in Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands and the log cabin, which he built himself, is a two-hour walk from the nearest road

The documentary The Hermit of Treig will explore how Ken (pictured eating a berry) turned his back on modern civilisation following tragic events in his life

The documentary The Hermit of Treig will explore how Ken (pictured eating a berry) turned his back on modern civilisation following tragic events in his life 

Ken goes on regular missions to get medication and other supplies, getting up at 4am, hiking three hours to catch the train to Fort William (pictured)

Ken goes on regular missions to get medication and other supplies, getting up at 4am, hiking three hours to catch the train to Fort William (pictured) 

A photographer who tracked Ken down in 2020 revealed his cabin has no phone reception, mains electricity or water, and he uses a compostable waste system called ‘the bottomless pit’. 

The photographer said: ‘Ken is extremely cut off. He reads a lot. Last time I saw him, he was showing me the new Guinness Book of Records but he was saying how he didn’t understand what a lot of the records were about. “What is this Facebook?” he said.

‘He is in a time capsule, he has no phone, no signal, and doesn’t want one.’ 

The log cabin is a two-hour walk from the nearest road on the edge of Rannoch Moor. 

‘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.’

Looking down on the loch from hillside, he adds: ‘All their ruins are down there. The score now is one and that’s me.’

What does hermit Ken Smith eat? 

The pensioner lives in a log cabin which he built himself on the banks of Loch Treig, in Lochaber, where his main source of food comes from fishing. 

Ken also forages for berries and grows his own vegetables, and to this day chops up his own firewood and washes his clothes in an old bath outside.

Ken goes on regular missions to get medication and other supplies, getting up at 4am, hiking three hours to catch the train to Fort William where he fills up his 70 litre rucksack with enough supplies for three to four weeks. 

Photos from his cabin show him with cans of soup and other tinned foods, though his full list of supplies is unclear. 

The documentary explores how traumatic events in Ken’s life led him to turn his back on modern civilisation. 

While he began building fire stations at the age of 15, at 26, he was brutally set upon by a gang of thugs following a night out, causing him to suffer a brain haermorrhage which put him in a 23-day coma.   

‘They said I would never recover. They said I would never speak again,’ he says.

‘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.’

Following the assault, Ken took up travelling and began exploring the idea of living in the wilderness.   

While visiting the Yukon Territory in Canada, he decided to wander off the highway and ‘into nowhere’ – travelling around 22,000 miles before deciding to return home.   

But it was during this epic journey that his parents died, which he tragically did not discover until he got back.   

‘It took a long while to hit me,’ he says. ‘I felt nothing.’ 

Ken later walked the length of Britain when he finally broke down over the loss of his parents upon reaching Rannoch in the Scottish Highlands. 

‘I cried all the way while walking,’ Ken tells the documentary.

‘I thought where is the most isolated place in Britain?’ 

‘I went around and followed every bay and every Ben where there wasn’t a house built.

‘Hundreds and hundreds of miles of nothingness. I looked across the loch and saw this woodland.’

After arriving at Fort William he fills up his 70 litre rucksack with enough supplies for three to four weeks before repeating the journey in reverse

After arriving at Fort William he fills up his 70 litre rucksack with enough supplies for three to four weeks before repeating the journey in reverse

Ken (pictured foraging), refuses to rejoin civilisation and says he will live out the rest of his days in his cabin - and that he hopes to live to 102

Ken (pictured foraging), refuses to rejoin civilisation and says he will live out the rest of his days in his cabin – and that he hopes to live to 102 

Ken collects berries - with some pictured here in storage so that birds cannot reach them - and lives off mostly fish from the loch

Ken collects berries – with some pictured here in storage so that birds cannot reach them – and lives off mostly fish from the loch

Ken says it was then that he stopped crying and decided to construct his log cabin – having earlier built a prototype using twigs.  

He has remained there ever since, living mostly off the fish in the loch. 

‘If you want to learn how to live an independent life what you have to do is learn how to fish,’ he says.

However things became complicated for Ken when he suffered a stroke in February 2019. 

While out in the freezing snow, he managed to send an alert via a GPS locator beacon, which he had luckily been given just days earlier. 

The message triggered an SOS, which was pinged to a response centre in Houston, Texas, which in turn notified the coastguard in the UK. 

Ken was picked up by helicopter and taken to hospital in Fort William, where he spent seven weeks in recovery. 

He ignored pleas from doctors who urged him to move into a flat where he would have carers on hand, instead deciding to return to his cabin. 

The documentary will explore how traumatic events in Ken's life led him to turn his back on modern civilisation (Pictured: Ken in the documentary The Hermit of Treig, airing on BBC Scotland tonight)

The documentary will explore how traumatic events in Ken’s life led him to turn his back on modern civilisation (Pictured: Ken in the documentary The Hermit of Treig, airing on BBC Scotland tonight)

The pensioner lives in a log cabin which he built himself on the banks of Loch Treig, where his main source of food comes from fishing (Pictured in the documentary The Hermit of Treig, airing on BBC Scotland tonight)

The pensioner lives in a log cabin which he built himself on the banks of Loch Treig, where his main source of food comes from fishing (Pictured in the documentary The Hermit of Treig, airing on BBC Scotland tonight)

Ken forages for berries and grows his own vegetables, and to this day chops up his own firewood and washes clothes in an old bath outside (Pictured: Loch Treig)

Ken forages for berries and grows his own vegetables, and to this day chops up his own firewood and washes clothes in an old bath outside (Pictured: Loch Treig)

In a trailer for the programme, Ken, from Derbyshire, can be seen foraging for peanuts

In a trailer for the programme, Ken, from Derbyshire, can be seen foraging for peanuts 

A recent stroke in 2019 has left Ken (pictured) with blurred vision and memory loss, threatening his way of living

A recent stroke in 2019 has left Ken (pictured) with blurred vision and memory loss, threatening his way of living

But his double vision and memory loss from the stroke means he now has to accept help from the head stalker of the estate where his cabin is situated. 

Ken pays the stalker to bring him food parcels every two weeks with money from his pension.   

‘People these days have been very good to me,’ Ken says.

A year later a pile of logs fell on Ken, causing him to be airlifted to hospital once more – however he is adamant that he will not leave his cabin.  

‘We weren’t put on earth forever,’ Ken says.

‘I’ll stop here until my final days come, definitely.’

‘I have had lots of incidents but I seem to have survived them all.

‘I am bound to go ill again sometime. 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.’

The Hermit of Treig is on BBC Scotland at 10pm tonight (November 9) and will be made available on BBC iPlayer. 

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