The Hermit of Treig

Lizzie MacKenzie’s documentary portrait of Ken Smith, who has spent the last 40 years alone in the Highlands, is compassionate and life-affirming.

There is no road to Loch Treig. No mains electricity, no water supply. It’s a 27-mile walk just to post a letter. But it is here that Ken Smith has made his home, in a wooden cabin on the fringes of the water. Now in his 70s, Smith has been eking out an existence for 40 years in this location, fly-fishing, cultivating a small plot of land, grubbing up pignuts from the earth and even brewing his own wine from birch sap (he has amassed about 80 gallons of the stuff, which, he says, will ensure that his funeral goes off with a bang).

With his bright, bird-like eyes, untamed thicket of beard and boots that peel from his feet like banana skins, he’s a fascinating subject. But this lovely, compassionate documentary, which recently won the audience award at the Glasgow film festival, is more than a character study. It’s a portrait of a friendship between Smith and film-maker Lizzie MacKenzie.

Smith may have turned his back on civilisation but it’s a decision not so much grounded in hostility to the human world but rather prompted by his wonder and reverence for the natural one. His writing, no-frills prose, methodically recorded in his tiny, precise penmanship, has a sparse, subsistence economy to it. His photographs, however, captured on an ancient Zenit camera, are glorious, throbbing with life and love. But the peace that Smith has found in the wilds of Scotland is threatened. As his health takes a turn for the worse, the question looms of how long his life on the land is sustainable?

Not to be missed!

Programme Type: Film

Director: Lizzie MacKenzie

Cast: Ken Smith, Lizzie MacKenzie

Certificate: PG

Running Time: 80 minutes

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