No, not my Nan. I call her Gran anyway…..
The lady in question is Nan Shepard, and today she would have been 125 years old.
Nan was born in Aberdeen and spent most of her life in Aberdeenshire and the Cairngorms. An author, professor, and poet, Nan’s recent fame is in part due to the popularity of her book: The Living Mountain. She also appears on the recently updated Scottish £5 note.
The Living Mountain was originally written in 1944. The manuscript was tucked away in a drawer for many years before finally being published in 1997 by the Aberdeen University Press. They only printed a small edition. It was then picked up by Robert McFarlane (a popular British writer) who was so moved by the text that he felt it must be shared more widely, and it was re-published in 2011
I won’t delve too much into the book since it is really quite short and I think everyone should go and read it anyway. I have lent and forcibly insisted that friends borrow it many times over the past year. But I will share why I have fallen more and more in love with this book every time I read it.
Firstly, there is no continuous plot. On my first reading, I was slightly confused by this for the first few chapters. I had been expecting an exciting tale of an epic journey or a timeline of exploration of the Cairngorms. Instead, each chapter can stand alone as a reflection on some particular aspect of being out in the mountains. Nan waxes lyrical about the water, about the flora and fauna, and about the changing season, each in individual chapters. This means that with a half hour to spare I can often dip in and revisit my favourite chapter or passage when it takes my fancy.
My second reason for falling in love with this book is the style of the narrative. It is poetic in its prose, and it inspired me to stop more. To take the time to watch the icicles melt, and to dip my toes in the water, experience the cold. After reading Nan’s book, I almost had to re-visit why I like to go into the mountains. It changed my approach, my attitude and my appreciation of these beautiful wild spaces that I move in, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
This is a book I will forever revisit, and will always recommend and gift to others. I’d love to hear if it has had a similar impact on you?