Over the last couple of decades, Nan Shepherd has risen from obscurity. Her novels and poetry are now seen as significant additions to Scottish literature, The Living Mountain is recognised as a classic of its type and the famous picture of a youthful Shepherd adorns a five pound note; she has even received the rare accolade of being the subject of a recent NEMT lecture! It is timely, therefore, that we now have a biography.
Nan Shepherd is an elusive figure. She was both self-effacing and determined to hide certain aspects of her life, and for good reason given the public attitudes of her day. Charlotte Peacock is to be praised for the detective work that she has undertaken in gathering together the elements of Shepherds life. This is not a book solely devoted to Shepherds traffic with the mountain, and readers only interested in this aspect may be disappointed. Peacock places Shepherds journeying in the Cairngorms in the wider context of her life. She explores Shepherds place in the Scottish Literary Renaissance and her connections to the other figures in that movement. Shepherd enjoyed a close relationship with Neil Gunn, both sharing similar visions, and a lengthy friendship with Jessie Kesson. The author speculates about how the characters in her three novels relate to those close to Shepherd. For part of her life Shepherd was troubled by one particular relationship and Peacock hazards a guess as to whom the man in question was. A strong aspect of the book is the manner in which the author links Shepherds life to the growing emancipation of women and the cultural and physical changes which occurred in North East Scotland during her life time.
Shepherds relationship with the Cairngorms is, inevitably, a central part of the book and, ironically, there are weaknesses here. The Living Mountain is part inward journey and part love song to the Cairngorms. The author is convincing when exploring Shepherds spiritual response to the hills but tends to play down her sheer love of the mountain environment. The book could also benefit from tighter editing. That said, this is an important book which is a must read for anyone interested in Shepherd from either a literary perspective or with a view to simply finding out more about the person who wrote that exquisite evocation of Scotlands finest mountain range.
This is a follow-up to the authors previous book, The Old Deeside Road Revisited, published in 2014 and reviewed in issue 72 of Mountain Views. In this book, he looks at the old roads running roughly north - south across the Mounth. In the past, these roads or tracks would have been used by cattle drovers taking their herds south for sale and for other trading activities.
The book is written as both a source of information and a guide book. It is A5 sized and will readily fit into your rucksack but doesnt have maps included. It is full of fascinating detail and ideal for reading pieces during a lunch break. However, dont rely on it for finding your way normal ability to read a map and use a compass is needed. This wont be an obstacle because these routes will appeal to people who already have a working knowledge of the area and wish to undertake specific walks of cultural and historical interest. Some of them are well-known as access routes to various Munros, but their significance is really as through routes. They are old and have acquired a lot of history as various things have happened over the years. This is what makes the book so interesting.
There is a lot of information about cattle droving; the markets they went to, the considerations of what might make one route better than another. It is good to read about something that was so important in past times and has strongly influenced a lot of tracks and inns right across Scotland.
It is a very personal account and full of notes such as where he camped, bits where navigation gets difficult or even the weather when he was walking there. I find this style very readable, making the book a real pleasure to dip into. I thoroughly recommend it. It is available from Deeside Books, Ballater.
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