The Skiddaw Hermit
The struggles of George Smith
After a relatively conventional upbringing and a liberal education in North East Scotland, George Smith (1827-1876) voluntarily became a vagabond and took to the road plying his trade as a wandering artist, living wherever he saw fit to lay his head.
Eventually arriving in the English Lake District, he settled on Dodd Fell, a protuberance on the mountain of Skiddaw, where his unorthodox choice of home—a ‘nest’ between forest and crag—earned him the name “Skiddaw Hermit.”
Dressed only in a shabby wincey shirt and trousers cut off at the knee, he eschewed all other raiment including shoes, nonchalantly travelling through the various districts barefoot and half-clad whatever the weather. Throughout his travels he was persecuted for his unique appearance and wild antics, and once again found himself moved on from place to place.
Receiving a vast amount of publicity for his eccentricities and strange way of life, notoriety led him to be cruelly misjudged as a troublesome and truculent character. Thereafter deemed a terror to the Lake District, he was arrested numerous times for apparent drunken and violent behaviour, and was frequently incarcerated in the gaols of Cumberland and Westmorland. What the authorities failed to recognise was the fact that Smith suffered from mental health issues, and his imprisonment was therefore unjust—a crucial point which makes his story far more poignant.
The vicious circle continued, but, eventually, at Bowness Bay on the shores of Windermere he was converted after hearing a preacher of the Gospel, and persuaded to reject his demi-savage life before making a return to conventional society.
However, this did not last long and his nomadic existence prevailed; he subsequently wandered home to Scotland where he was committed to an asylum on the recommendation of his sister. From hereon in Smith’s life took a grave turn for the worse when, in time, he was detained for the term of his natural life, never to walk through the Highland glens or smell the mountain heather again.
The tragic clash between his quest for a free life among the beauties of Nature and the strict confinement of his involuntary detention within the granite walls of an asylum makes for grim reading, yet highlights the antiquated perceptions of Victorian Britain towards the eternal problems endured by mankind.
Paperback; 220 x 150mm