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From The Reader Bookshelf… The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

Written by Maisie Jeynes, 21st October 2021

As part of our ongoing work around The Reader Bookshelf, we've asked staff to share their thoughts about some of the inspirational texts in the collection.

This week, our Teaching & Learning Lead, Kristen Hutchinson, explores The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.


Words by Kristen Hutchinson

When I was six, my father took me on my first climbing trip in the Alps. One day we had to navigate a glacier to reach the next hut to sleep in. As my father went off ahead to save us some beds, we took the time to rope ourselves together. A couple of minutes later I stepped on what I thought was solid ground, which immediately gave way as I was plunged into a crevasse. As I hung, a good twenty feet down within the glacier, what I most remember, apart from sheer shock, was not terror but astonishment that the glacier had an inside as well as an outside and that it was so very beautiful.

This and other climbing experiences are what drew me to The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd's unique account of 'the tale of my traffic with a mountain'. It is, as she qualifies 'a traffic of love' in the sense of what is exchanged between her and her beloved Cairngorms as she visits them repeatedly.  Her stated desire is to know the mountain within and without, 'to know that is, with the knowledge that is a process of living'.

You don't need to be a climber to enjoy this book. She visits the mountain, 'as one visits a friend' and it is as much about how we can come to know both. The book is hard to describe – like life, it can only be experienced – it is, as she describes her mountain, 'like a work of art (which) is perpetually new when one returns to it'.

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