Life as a hermit: 'My life is a great adventure'
For nearly 30 years, Jake Willams has lived as a hermit in the Scottish wilderness for thirty years. He explains why he could never go back to a 'normal' life
I always fancied being a hermit. There was a tradition in the 18th century to pay hermits to live on your grounds and entertain the guests; I would have liked that. I live alone in an old house in the Scottish wilderness, near Aberdeen. There's an old stove that's the heart of the house and two bigs barns full of wood and useful things I've found.
I've lived like this since I got the house in the Eighties. I did it because I was sick of dealing with landlords. I was living in Aberdeen with friends, we'd made the place nice and then suddenly had to move out. It was a nightmare. I decided I would save money by any means to buy the first place I could afford. 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.
I was a merchant seaman and a technician in 1973. I went round the islands at the north of Canada where you couldn't even go as a tourist back then and I got paid for it! I did that for a while, then in 1980 when I wanted to just save money I went back to that company and saved up enough to get the house.
I don't think my life is unconventional. I am just an owner-occupier. I did the work first and saved up rather than buying a mortgage for three decades or whatever. My expectations of where I could live were crumbling and my earnings were increasing and then they crossed over. I moved in the first day I got the place. There weren't any windows and it was very damp. It hadn't been lived in for 20 years. Somebody had stored hay at one end of a long, thin shed and I moved in and camped in it. Then I started making fires and getting the house dried out. That was about Halloween so I needed to get it ready for winter. It was a happy clappy adventure.
I've got a garden with a lot of kale – it's like a primitive cabbage. It's 1,000ft up where I live and that affects the climate. I'm not very good at growing carrots here, but I've got a lot of redcurrants. I consider myself to be a hunter-gatherer, so if I'm stopped at a layby and I see some wood, I pick it up. I don't like to miss a chance to get something for nothing. I've reached a level of incompetence in my own life... have you heard of the Peter Principle? You get promoted and promoted, or take too many things on, until you end up not doing anything very well. That's me. I like to do a lot of different little jobs. I am always busy boiling a pan of tatties on the fire for tomorrow or looking for something I've lost.
I'm a kind of half-arsed hermit; I've always had an open house and people visit me. I've been in Scottish dance bands, I write letters and freelance articles for The Leopard [a magazine on sustainable living] and I was even standing for the Green Party this month in the elections – I got 6 per cent of the votes, which they told me is quite good. But mostly I spend my days alone.
Summer is the best time. You can slip outside and cook with an outdoor fire. It's lovely. It's an easy life. If I want to stay at home I can. I stock up on food and firewood so I won't starve if I don't go out.
Three winters ago a bloke from Latvia was with me and the cold was nothing to him. We went skiing in the hills and had a great adventure. Having two people was good because we could keep the fire nice and toasty.
Then two winters ago it was a hard life... it was a hard winter everywhere. Somebody had tried to sue me and I had to go to Aberdeen to the court. I had to ski six miles in, then stay with a friend and then ski six miles back home regularly for about five months. I'd come home and the fires would be out and you're cold and wet. It was a nightmare. It's usually not that hard, that year was the exception, but I've survived.
To me, this seems like normal life. Having a career seems slightly odd. My main reason for doing this is just meanness. It seems inefficient to work in a job and take money home. This seems more straightforward or easier than that. It's just a blowing in the wind thing. You just do as good as you can, making the best of what's there. That makes it sound sort of depressing, but it's not – it's a great adventure.
Interview by Emily Jupp
Jake Williams is the star of the new documentary film, 'Two Years at Sea', out in cinemas now
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