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.