20 women writing about the outdoors

12 of 21

10. Nan Shepherd

Mountains hold a unique place in many hearts and minds. They become more than a collection of rocks and snow rising up from the earth. Instead, a mountain can be a holy place, both physically high and spiritually set apart from the rest of the world. It’s a theme that is echoed in many cultures and societies, from the Native Hawaiian veneration of volcanoes to the ancient Greek focus on the home of its gods, Mount Olympus.

Anna “Nan” Shepherd may not have worshiped mountains in the religious sense, but she did hold montane lands in great esteem. In her work as a poet and novelist, she reserved special acclaim for the Scottish mountains of her homeland.

Shepherd, who was born in a suburb of Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1893, eventually became an important writer in Scottish Modernist literature. While she was a lecturer at the Aberdeen College of Education, she published her first novel, The Quarry Wood, in 1928. This was followed by The Weatherhouse (1930) and A Pass in the Grampians (1933).

The Scottish Highlands

All three of these novels, along with her poetry, were deeply intertwined with the landscape of the Scottish highlands. The characters featured in her work oftentimes feel the pull between the steadily growing modern world and the older, more established traditions of their hometowns. Shepherd often set her fictional work in the Grampian Mountains, one of the three major mountain ranges in Scotland.

Shepherd also gained acclaim for her nonfiction work, especially the short volume she titled The Living Mountain. Though she wrote it during the 1940s, Shepherd would not publish it until 1977. That’s something of a shame, for she writes beautifully about her time walking in the Cairngorm mountains, located in the eastern highlands of Scotland. “Often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend,” she wrote.

No one knows for sure why Shepherd waited so long to publish The Living Mountain, but clearly, people are glad that she did. In her honor in 2016, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a £5 note with her portrait prominently featured on the bill.