5 hermits who have called Scotland home

Hermits have long been the stuff of fascination in a world heavy with communication, consumption and comfort. Here we look at 5 hermits who have shunned it all and whose stories of survival, endurance and solitude linger on.

Friday, 2nd June 2017, 7:27 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:29 pm
Jake Williams, a hermit who lives near the Cairngorms, pictured in Edinburgh. A film about his life 'Two years at Sea' was made in 2012.
Jake Williams, a hermit who lives near the Cairngorms, pictured in Edinburgh. A film about his life 'Two years at Sea' was made in 2012.

Jake Williams

Jake Williams became an unlikely movie star when his hermit-like existence featured in a film in 2012.

He choose to buy a remote, abandoned farmhouse in The Cairngorms after he and his friends had to leave their home, a rented flat in Aberdeen, with Williams describing the experience as a “nightmare.”

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Author Sara Maitland with her isolated cottage in moorland in Galloway in the background. PIC: Robert Perry/ Scotland on Sunday.

The former seaman and technician described the experience as a “nightmare” - and vowed to buy the first place he could afford.

Williams describes himself as a hunter gatherer who collects materials and resources as he goes. One winter, he would ski for five hours to meet appointments in Aberdeen. He writes, plays music and has stood as a Green Party candidate in the past.

“I always thought people would come and live with me eventually – it’s not me that’s impossible to live with, I’m very friendly – but it just hasn’t happened yet,” Williams earlier said.

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Author Sara Maitland with her isolated cottage in moorland in Galloway in the background. PIC: Robert Perry/ Scotland on Sunday.

James McRory Smith, also known as Sandy

Smith lived for 30 years in a remote bothy in north-west Scotland and became known as the Highland Hermit.

Strathchailleach near Sutherland had no running water or electricity and could only be reached by foot.

McRory Smith, who died in 1999 aged 73, said he had walked probably “thousands of miles” to collect his messages and pension from the post office at Balchrick.

“The only problem is I keep wearing out my wellies,” he said in a rare newspaper interview.

Born in 1925, McRory Smith fought in World War II and served as part of Britain’s post-war occupational force, the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). It is understood he returned to Scotland after his wife was killed in a road accident. With his children left with their grandparents in Germany, McRory Smith hit the road.

He did some work with the Forestry Commission and lived in what shelter he could. Strathchailleach was later taken on by the Mountain Bothies Association but McRory Smith is known to have clashed with hillwalkers as he stridently guarded his privacy and space.

Tom Leppard – the Leopard Man Of Skye.

Leppard, a former soldier, lived in a lochside bothy on the Isle of Skye for more than two decades and used his kayak to collect supplies and his pension.

The former soldier, who covered himself in leopard-print tattoos after leaving the services in the late 1980s, lived in basic surrounds. His small home had an earthen floor and metal sheet roofing with his bed made from polystyrene board.

In 2008, a friend offered him a place to stay in Broadford.

At the time, he told The Guardian in an interview: “I have no interest in a TV, or a radio. Nor do I want a telephone. “My life hasn’t changed much - I never bothered people when I lived in the bothy, and they didn’t bother me, and I’m not really that interested in what else is going on outside.”

Once recognised as the world’s most tattooed man by the Guinness Book of World Records, he admitted to getting the markings as a way of making money - but said he didn’t enjoy the publicity that came with them.

Robert Sinclair

Sinclair lived in the woods outside Falkirk for 20 years surviving on what he could catch, forage and steal.

He was described as a modern-day Davy Crockett due to his survival skills with Sinclair making shelters amongst the trees or taking on abandoned sheds and farm buildings as his own.

Sinclair’s lonely existence made headlines in 1999 when he was sent to HMP Barlinnie for failing to attend court. He had pleaded guilty to stealing items such as crisps, a tin of salmon from surrounding houses and caravans. He didn’t steal money and lived with no money for 20 years.

Sinclair was eventually caught after a farmhand spotted footprints made by a pair of trainers he had taken.

The experience of being incarcerated proved traumatic for Sinclair. He said at the time he was going to move on and teach adventure and survival skills to others.

Sara Maitland

The award winning author lives in Galloway in an old shepherd’s cottage miles from anywhere. She shuns television and social media in favour of sewing and praying for several hours a day. She likes to say as little as possible and at one poind did not to speak a word every Tuesday and Thursday. She described mobile phones as “a major breakthrough for the powers of hell” although she does have a landline for essential communication

Her 2008 book A Book of Silence documents her quest for a solitary life. Formerly married to an Anglican priest she moved to Galloway in the mid-2000s for the “huge nothing” of the place.