The Living Mountain

Nan Shepherd.  Introduction by Robert Macfarlane. Canongate 2011

Recommended by Martin Stott

I re-read The Living Mountain on a recent hiking trip in the Scottish Highlands. It speaks of the mountains in such a contemporary voice that it could have been written yesterday. In fact, it was completed in 1945 and only published in 1977 a few years before Nan Shepherd’s death. It remained practically unknown until about a decade ago when her writing, including a book of poetry In the Cairngorms (published in 1934) was re-discovered and championed by Robert Macfarlane.

Shepherd records her feelings about the views, the rocks, the wildlife and the hidden joys of a part of the Highlands close to where she spent her whole life – the Cairngorms. Her approach to this wilderness was less about conquering the peaks and more about listening to the landscape, becoming one with it: ‘…I discover most nearly what it is to be. I have walked out of the body and into the mountain. I am a manifestation of its total life as is the starry saxifrage or the white-winged ptarmigan’ (p. 106).  The Living Mountain gleams with the insights of a prose poet in her chosen landscape.