We thought we were lost as we trundled for miles along a dirt track which ran the perimeter of Clashindarroch Forest, the extensive woodlands situated on the border of Aberdeenshire and Speyside, the whisky-distilling territory of Northern Scotland. As we began to question whether the obscure road, which didn’t even show on our map, was leading to nowhere, we eventually caught a glimpse of what we were looking for. A scattered collection of structures; tin-roofed huts, caravans, sheds, and a small cottage. The home of Jake Williams.
Jake Williams’ reputation is that of a hermit who has lived for decades in solitude in his own miniature kingdom. But any preconceived notion that we were disturbing somebody who would rather be left alone was dashed within seconds of arrival, as he welcomed us into his world with a cup of coffee, biscuit and a firm handshake.
Welcoming yet reserved, Jake took us on a tour of the land surrounding his home. The heavy storms at the end of 2021 had caused significant damage, including his large greenhouse, which he was in the process of rebuilding for Spring. Jake grows all his own vegetables but laughed off the suggestion that he is totally self-sufficient from what he produces in his garden.
The tour concluded with the showpiece of Jake’s collection of fascinating yet varied living quarters; a 1950’s caravan, sitting aloft 20 feet up a tree, wedged between a fork in the branches. The caravan looked like it had been there so long that it had become at one with the tree, but Jake was coy on how it got there in the first place. “I drove really fast into the tree, and it got stuck!” He joked. Much like the Pyramids, we knew we would never really find out exactly how it came to be.
“I sleep here sometimes. It’s lovely in summer, but very cold in winter”, Jake told us, as we regrouped inside the caravan, high off the ground, feeling every gust of wind and subsequent fluctuation of the branches. In the caravan, we pressed Jake more on how he ended up living in such unique circumstances. Once more, he was coy, “I won’t tell you how long it’s been. But people have been born and grown up in the time I have lived here”. Whether through a will of privacy or feeding into his own urban myth, Jake didn’t delve any further into his past. However, touching on his present-day schedule, it became clear that his life in isolation is not as remote as many would associate with a hermit. “I teach science sometimes at the local school. It’s fun to make things go bang”, he giggles, “and I regularly busk at local events”.
There are countless videos of Jake busking on YouTube, and as we settled in the living room of his cottage, it was clear that music was Jake’s real passion. His instrument of choice was the only thing more unique than Jake himself. An old electric guitar, which had a second neck retrofitted to the top of its body, doubling up as a mandolin. On the lower side of the guitar’s body, Jake had fitted a miniature amplifier with various IQ levels and effects. Impressive craftsmanship, and, without a doubt, the most unique musical instrument we had ever seen. But it was clear Jake was a skilled, seasoned veteran with it. He treated us to nearly an hourlong gig, covering pop classics to Scottish folk songs to pure improvisation. The one constant throughout was Jake’s sheer joy, brought about by the sounds he was making with his one-of-a-kind guitar/mandolin hybrid machine.
After our gig in the dark (Jake has no mains electricity, and his diesel generator is used sparingly), it was, unfortunately, time for us to leave Jake and head back to civilisation.
It’s easy, but somewhat lazy, to describe Jake as a hermit. Yes, he may live in relative solitude compared to our modern societal norms. But from spending a day in the life of Jake Williams, it is evident that living alone does not define his true characteristics. A storyteller and a performer, Jake showed us that beyond titles and assumptions, he is somebody who lives life at his own pace, in his own unique way, truly void of external influence. Jake’s life is one that is lived by few. But, to be honest, that is more fool on us.
Jake is wearing the Pop-Button Pullover in Golden Khaki, available now.