Nan Shepherd – The Living Mountains – A true love story of the Cairngorms

I wrote about John Muir yesterday as I missed the John Muir day but was only recently introduced to another fantastic writer Nan Shepherd about 10 years ago.  There was a short piece on the TV last night and a great insight into this free spirit.  She loved the Cairngorms and the mountains and wrote so passionately and in a unique style about the land nature and days, nights and weeks,  out alone in the hills. She wrote her book the “Living Mountain” and it was not accepted by publishers for many years. It lay in drawer and was re found. Why was it refused was it due to the male domination of that time of mountaineering books and this was a softer approach and a feel of the wild places in very page. The book is to me a masterpiece one to read again and again, underline the words that flow like the music of nature. There are so many gems in it and I love it when I read that a friend was having a relaxing day with a glass of wine reading this book. I give a copy to many that take up a love of the mountains and the wild and looking forward to Lexi and Ellie Skye my Grand kids reading and enjoying this book.

How many are on our £5 note well done who ever thought of that.

“The image of Nan Shepherd which now graces a £5 bank note is a curious one. She looks as if she is in fancy-dress as a Native American, or a flapper more concerned with the Charleston than the Cairngorms. The photo has the strange band around her head and it is a piece of photographic film she hastily wrapped around her brow on a whim, before placing a broach in the middle. It is an image which seems to blur the technological and the primitive, the futuristic and the chthonic, the avant-garde and the elemental. To that extent, it is the perfect image for this strange, inspiring writer. It is magic like the lady!”

£5 note
The reverse of the £5 note features two mackerel, the Scottish fishing industry’s single most valuable stock, as well as an excerpt from Sorley MacLean’s poem The Choice.
Behind the portrait sits a picture of the Cairngorms, which she celebrated in her writing, as well as a quote from her book The Living Mountain.
The £10 note shows two otters at play on the reverse and an excerpt from the poem ‘Moorings’ by Norman MacCaig.
Burntisland Beach, where Mary Somerville lived as a child, features behind the portrait, along with a quote from her work The Connection of the Physical Sciences.

Anna (Nan) Shepherd was born in 1893 and died in 1981. Closely attached to Aberdeen and her native Deeside, she graduated from her home university in 1915 and for the next forty-one years worked as a lecturer in English. An enthusiastic gardener and hill-walker, she made many visits to the Cairngorms with students and friends. She also travelled further afield – to Norway, France, Italy, Greece and South Africa – but always returned to the house where she was raised and where she lived almost all of her adult life, in the village of West Cults, three miles from Aberdeen on North Deeside.
In this masterpiece of nature writing, Nan Shepherd describes her journeys into the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. There she encounters a world that can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and shockingly harsh at others. Her intense, poetic prose explores and records the rocks, rivers, creatures and hidden aspects of this remarkable landscape.
Shepherd spent a lifetime in search of the ‘essential nature’ of the Cairngorms; her quest led her to write this classic meditation on the magnificence of mountains, and on our imaginative relationship with the wild world around us. Composed during the Second World War, the manuscript of The Living Mountain lay untouched for more than thirty years before it was finally published.
“Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him.”
 Nan ShepherdThe Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland
“The Cairngorm water is all clear. Flowing from granite, with no peat to darken it, it has never the golden amber, the ‘horse-back brown’ so often praised in Highland burns. When it has any colour at all, it is green, as in the Quoich near its linn. It is a green like the green of winter skies, but lucent, clear like aquamarines, without the vivid brilliance of glacier water. Sometimes the Quoich waterfalls have violet playing through the green, and the pouring water spouts and bubbles in a violet froth.”
― Nan ShepherdThe Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland

Summit of Corrie Etchachan – Poem

“But in the climbing ecstasy of thought,
Ere consummation, ere the final peak,
Come hours like this. Behind, the long defile,
The steep rock-path, alongside which, from under
Snow-caves, sharp-corniced, tumble the ice-cold waters.
And now, here, at the corrie’s summit, no peak,
No vision of the blue world, far, unattainable,
But this grey plateau, rock-strewn, vast, silent,
The dark loch, the toiling crags, the snow;
A mountain shut within itself, yet a world,
Immensity. So may the mind achieve,
Toiling, no vision of the infinite,
But a vast, dark and inscrutable sense
Of its own terror, its own glory and power.
Nan Shepherd
from In the Cairngorms (Edinburgh: The Moray Press, 1934)
Reproduced by permission of the Estate of Nan Shepherd.”

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Books, Friends, People, Poems, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Views Political?. Bookmark the permalink.

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