Nan Shepherd

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Anna "Nan" Shepherd
Photo of a young Nan Shepherd wearing a headband
Born(1893-02-11)11 February 1893
Cults, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died27 February 1981(1981-02-27) (aged 88)
Woodend Hospital, Aberdeen, Scotland
OccupationAuthor, poet
LanguageEnglish, Scots
EducationAberdeen High School for Girls
Alma materUniversity of Aberdeen
Period20th century
GenreNovels, poetry, non-fiction
Literary movementModernism
Notable works
  • The Quarry Wood (1928)
  • The Weatherhouse (1930)
  • A Pass in the Grampians (1933)
  • The Living Mountain (1977)

Anna "Nan" Shepherd (11 February 1893 – 27 February 1981) was a Scottish Modernist writer and poet, best known for her seminal mountain memoir, The Living Mountain, based on experiences of hill walking in the Cairngorms. This is noted as an influence by nature writers who include Robert Macfarlane and Richard Mabey.[1] She also wrote poetry and three novels set in small fictional communities in Northern Scotland. The landscape and weather of this area played a major role in her novels and provided a focus for her poetry. Shepherd served as a lecturer in English at the Aberdeen College of Education for most of her working life.[2]


Nan Shepherd was born on 11 February 1893 at Westerton Cottage, Cults, now a suburb of Aberdeen, to John and Jane Shepherd. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Dunvegan, Cults, the house she then lived in for most of her life.[3] She attended Aberdeen High School for Girls and graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1915.

Shepherd subsequently lectured for the Aberdeen College of Education.[4] She retired from teaching in 1956, but edited the Aberdeen University Review until 1963. The university awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1964.[5] She remained a friend and a supporter of other Scottish writers, including Neil M. Gunn, Marion Angus and Jessie Kesson.

Nan Shepherd died on 27 February 1981 at Woodend Hospital, Aberdeen.[6]



Shepherd was a major contributor to early Scottish Modernist literature. Her first novel, The Quarry Wood (1928) has often been compared to Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, published four years later, as they both portray restricted, often tragic lives of women in Scotland at that time.[7] Her second novel, The Weatherhouse (1930), concerns interactions between people in a small Scottish community.[8] Her third and final novel, A Pass in the Grampians, appeared in 1933.[4]

Shepherd's fiction brings out the sharp conflict between the demands of tradition and the pull of modernity, particularly in the nature of women's lives in the changing times. All three novels assign a major role to the landscape and weather in small northern Scottish communities they describe.[4]


Shepherd was a keen hill-walker. Her poetry expresses her love for the mountainous Grampian landscape. While a student at university, Shepherd wrote poems for the student magazine, Alma Mater, but not until 1934 was a collection of her poetry, In the Cairngorms, published.[5] This was reissued in April 2014 by Galileo Publishers, Cambridge, with a new introduction by Robert Macfarlane.[9]


Shepherd's short non-fiction book The Living Mountain, written in the 1940s,[10] reflects her experiences walking in the Cairngorm Mountains. She chose not to publish it until 1977, but it is now the book for which she is best known.[11] It has been quoted as an influence by prominent nature writers such as Robert Macfarlane and Joe Simpson. The Guardian called it "the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain".[12] Its functions as a memoir and field notes combine with metaphysical nature writing in the tradition of Thoreau or John Muir.[citation needed] The 2011 Cannongate edition included a foreword by Robert Macfarlane and an afterword by Jeanette Winterson,[13] these were also included in the 2019 edition by the same publisher.[14] Annabel Abbs retraced Shepherd's steps through the Cairngorms for her book, Windswept: Walking in the Footsteps of Trailblazing Women (Two Roads, 2021).

Essays and further poetry[edit]

In the years between the publication of In the Cairngorms and The Living Mountain, Shepherd placed articles and essays in magazines and journals, including the Aberdeen University Review and The Deeside Field. A selection of these, with several hitherto unpublished poems, were first collected as Wild Geese: A Collection of Nan Shepherd's Writing, published in 2019 by Galileo Publishers. This includes a short story, "Descent from the Cross", which appeared in the Scots Magazine in 1943.[15]


Nan Shepherd's stone slab outside the Writers' Museum in Edinburgh
Nan Shepherd on the Royal Bank of Scotland £5 note

Nan Shepherd is commemorated in Makars' Court outside the Writers' Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Selections for such commemoration are made by The Writers' Museum, The Saltire Society and The Scottish Poetry Library.

The best-known image of Shepherd is a portrait photograph as a young woman wearing a headband and a brooch on her forehead. Shepherd had decided to have her portrait taken at a local photography studio. Whilst sitting for it, she picked up a length of photographic film, wrapped it round her head on a whim and attached a brooch to it, making her look like a Wagnerian princess.

In 2016 this was adapted as an illustration for a new series of £5 notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland.[16][17][18]

In 2017 a commemorative plaque was placed outside her former home, Dunvegan, in the North Deeside Road, Cults.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Macfarlane, Robert (27 December 2013). "How Nan Shepherd remade my vision of the Cairngorms". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  2. ^ "Nan Shepherd | Poet". Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  3. ^ Peacock, Charlotte (2018). Into The Mountain: A Life of Nan Shepherd. Cambridge: GALILEO Publishers. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-903385-78-4. OCLC 1027057189.
  4. ^ a b c Ali Smith, "Shepherd, Anna (1893–1981)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Nan Shepherd (1893–1981)". Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 22 December 2013..
  6. ^ "Anna "Nan" Shepherd (1893–1981)". Find a Grave. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  7. ^ "Nan Shepherd 1893–1981" (PDF). Scottish Literary Tour Trust. 2003. Retrieved 22 December 2013. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Book Description. Canongate. September 1996. ASIN 0862415896 .
  9. ^ "Galileo Publishing - in the Cairngorms by Nan Shepherd -Foreword by Robert Macfarlane". Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  10. ^ Shepherd, Nan. (2011). The living mountain: a celebration of the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-0-85786-183-2. OCLC 778121107.
  11. ^ Robert Macfarlane (30 August 2008). "I walk therefore I am". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  12. ^ "Nan Shepherd | Justin Marozzi | Slightly Foxed literary review". Slightly Foxed. 1 December 2018. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  13. ^ Shepherd, Nan (2011). The living mountain : a celebration of the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-0-85786-183-2. OCLC 778121107.
  14. ^ Shepherd, Nan (2019). The living mountain. Robert Macfarlane, Jeanette Winterson. Great Britain. ISBN 978-1-78689-735-0. OCLC 1084507268.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ Shepherd, Nan. Wild geese: a collection of Nan Shepherd's writing. Peacock, Charlotte. Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-912916-00-9. OCLC 1082137109.
  16. ^ "The Tony McManus Geopoetics Lecture: Nan Shepherd: An Early Geopoet by James McCarthy, Heriot Watt University 18 November 2017 – Scottish Centre for Geopoetics". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  17. ^ Kelly, David (26 October 2017). "Book review: Into The Mountain: A Life of Nan Shepherd, by Charlotte Peacock". The Scotsman. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Novelist and poet Nan Shepherd to appear on RBS £5 note". BBC News. 25 April 2016. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  19. ^ Hebditch, Jon (June 2017). "Plaque to be put in place for Aberdeen poet Nan Shepherd". The Press and Journal. Retrieved 25 November 2020.

External links[edit]