Life in the Mountains


This was literally the high point of 2019 for me, but it meant more than just achieving a climb. Sitting on the top of Cairnsmore I could identify with Nan Shepherd and her love of mountains.  Reading her book The Living Mountain* recently, I wished that she was alive today and we could meet.

In The Living Mountain she concludes with the following passage –

I believe that I now understand in some small measure why the Buddhist goes on pilgrimage to a mountain. The journey is itself part of the technique by which the god is sought. It is a journey into Being; for as I penetrate more deeply into the mountain’s life, I penetrate also into my own. For an hour I am beyond desire. It is not ecstasy, that leap out of the self that makes man like a god. I am not out of myself, but in myself. I am. To know being, this is the final grace accorded from the mountain.’

Nan Shepherd was born in 1893 and died in 1981. Although she wrote a number of novels and travelled much further away from her home in West Cults, Deeside, her lifelong love of the Cairngorms is what she is perhaps mostly remembered for. Her writing has inspired Robert Macfarlane and many others who also have an affinity with wild mountainous places.

Her name has become more widely recognised since 2016 when a portrait of Nan Shepherd was added to the Royal Bank of Scotland £5 note.

*Composed during the Second World War, it wasn’t published until thirty years later.

I felt that an acknowledgement to Nan Shepherd was an appropriate way for me to end 2019. It was on a mountain in November this year that I felt an overwhelming ‘good to be alive’ feeling. – an appreciation of life and all that we have to be thankful for. In this book, she has put into words how through being out in the wild places and feeling a part of the natural world, we can begin to better understand ourselves.