High Five- one of Britain’s finest writers emerges on a new bill

Scotland has engraved the portrait of one of its best kept secrets on its new £5 note. She’s a writer almost no one has heard of…until now.

Nan Shepherd lived a quiet life dedicated to discovering and uncovering her beloved Cairngorm mountains just outside her home in Aberdeen. She wrote about the brooding peaks and cloudy glens for most of her life and kept her manuscript tucked away in a chest of drawers for thirty-odd years after completing it.

She wrote her masterpiece, called The Living Mountain, during World War II. Decades later, in 1977, she removed the manuscript and agreed to publish her life’s work. Only four years after publication, in 1981, she died in the same house in which she was born, under the shadow of the Cairngorms she enjoyed so much.

The Living Mountain is a simple and eloquent tribute to this rugged terrain she treasured. For her, it is not so much, said a fellow writer, about going up a mountain as going into it and getting to know, on a small scale, every rivulet, every corrie, every col or ridge  or tiny loch that she had the freedom to take in.

This is one of her favourite places, Carn a Mhaim deep in the Cairngroms, a place you have to find:


Now, the Royal Bank of Scotland has put her picture on its new  plastic £5 note – a fitting tribute for one of Britain’s most undervalued nature writers.

Here’s a quote from The Living Mountain. It is sparse, quiet. Every word counts:

“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.”

One of her favourite ranges was Braeriach (below)  where she would spend days, not so much heading for the summit, but prowling in and out of flanks, and huge shoulders and finding hidden streams or lochans or clefts. As she herself commented: “I am a peerer into nooks and crannies.”




Nature writer Robert MacFarlane, who writes and broadcasts about Shepherd,  says: “I thought I knew the Cairngorms well – until a decade or so ago when I read The Living Mountain…”

Both her slim book – more of a meditation than a book- and the fiver are now available.

4 thoughts on “High Five- one of Britain’s finest writers emerges on a new bill

  1. You know, some of us feel there is too much romanticising of the loneliness of these places, and would rather see them repopulated.

    Which is not to say she may be an excellent writer, and I will try to read some of her work.

    “The Townships[edit]

    Before the Jacobite Rising of 1715 Glen Lui supported many people and the valley floor was dotted with farms and townships. Following the acquisition of the forfeited Mar Estate by James Erskine, Lord Grange and David Erskine, Lord Dun in 1724 the ‘Farmers of Glen Lui were forcibly evicted in 1726’ – Watson (1975).

    In Gordon (1948) the author quotes from a letter dated 15 September 1726 from Lord Grange to James Farquharson of Balmoral who was Factor and Forester of the estate at the time, referring to Glen Lui and instructing him to eject those people after their harvest is over. The reason for this clearance appears to have been economic, to make timber extraction from the glen easier. In any case the glen appears to have been resettled by 1732, and finally cleared again by 1777 by which time all the tenancies in Glen Lui had reverted to the landowner – Earl Fife – Dixon and Green (1995).”


    By the way, curious that RBS still tries to present an image of being Scottish, while of course it is in fact British, having been largely purchased by the Westminster government.

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