This weeks Illustrated Woman in History was written by Jen Green & illustrated by Becca Lewis. It is featured in the Women’s History Month 2019 zine. Click here to buy
Nan Shepherd was a writer, mountaineer and lecturer.
She is best known for her novels, poetry and non-fiction and was pioneering in her writing about the Cairngorms, Scotland.
Nan was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Aberdeen, and became a lecturer of English at Aberdeen College of Education, where she worked for most of her life. She wrote three novels, illuminating the lives of women in Scotland at the time, and is recognised as a major contributor to Scottish Modernist literature.
Nan travelled abroad, but mostly spent her time walking in the Cairngorms.
The Living Mountain ( 1977) is a poetic journal of her observations from years of walking in the mountains, observations of herself and wildlife, weather, colours, water, snow. Her observations are embodied, subjective. Her connection with nature is profound and comprehensive, it seems that walking was a meditation. She would take opportunities to relish all the sensations of being in the mountains by sleeping out, jumping into pools, walking barefoot, peering over high ridges, setting out at dawn, listening, and watching the freezing of water.
‘On the mountain for an hour I am beyond desire. It is not ecstasy…I am not out of myself, but in myself. I am.’
‘I can teach my body many skills by which to learn the nature of the mountain.’
Some of the most extreme weather of the UK has been recorded in the Cairngorms, the highest wind speed of 176mph, and a temperature of -27.2°C. Nan would often walk alone, she slept out on the mountains, and sometimes walked barefoot; the idea of such wild freedom in the early 20t h Century was surely radical. She moved through the mountains with natural confidence, with no ambition but to be.
She is celebrated on the Scottish five pound note, in Makar’s Court outside the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh and by a commemorative plaque outside her home in Peterculter.