Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Nan Shepherd's book The Living Mountain is often acclaimed as a prescient example of the genre now often known as New Nature Writing. We take a look at a classic text on Scottish landscapes which was first published in 1977 - more than 30 years after it was written.

article summary —

Some books take time to make their mark on the reading public. Often they take even longer to make their mark on me. Thirty-eight years after the first publication of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, the title hovers on the outer edges of the list of Scottish bestsellers. The book is more than merely a prose poem in homage to Scotland’s Cairngorm mountains. It is intensely beautiful and is one of the most striking pieces of mountain literature I know.

“The finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” suggested the Guardian four years ago, when Edinburgh-based publisher Canongate released a handsome new paperback edition of The Living Mountain.

This is a slim volume — Nan Shepherd’s text in the 2011 Canongate edition runs to just over 100 pages, beautifully typeset in the classic Goudy Old Style font. Working with a small publisher myself, a decent font still counts for something in my world. It was 100 years ago in 1915 that Frederic Goudy unveiled the now-famous serif font which exudes quiet authority and recalls, in elements of its style, William Morris’ Arts and Crafts Movement.

Nan Shepherd would surely have liked Goudy Old Style which is as gentle and flowing as Nan’s prose. But she’d be mightily surprised to discover that her words have caught the attention of a travel writer from Berlin. For Nan Shepherd was a quiet and unassuming woman — so retiring that, when she first wrote The Living Mountain in the 1940s, she did not approach the matter of publication with any great urgency. The book was only published in 1977. Nan herself died in 1981, just a fortnight after her ninety-third birthday.

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Nicky Gardner is editor of hidden europe and also the principal author of the magazine. Where a text is not specifically attributed to an author, it is the work of Nicky. Below, you’ll find a small selection of her articles in hidden europe magazine. Nicky also writes regularly for other media. She is co-author (with Susanne Kries) of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide, the 17th edition of which was published 2022.

Nicky Gardner was liberated from a life enslaved to performance indicators and business plans to become a travel writer. She gives thanks for that daily. Nicky writes about culture and communities, about memorable landscapes and also about journeys. Over the years she's picked up a thing or two about product life cycles, the book trade and publishing, ticketing APIs, how libraries work and the high theology of grant giving.

Nicky reads geography books, railway timetables and maps entirely for pleasure - and lots of real books too! She loves nothing more than a slow meander by public transport around some unsung part of Europe. Nicky is particularly interested in issues of identity and culture in eastern Europe and the Balkans, in linguistic minorities and in island communities. Her pet loves are public libraries, Armenian food and anything coloured purple. Nicky cannot abide suburban sprawl, supermarkets and fast trains. Nicky has since 2007 been a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Nicky is especially keen on historical travel writing: Edith Durham, Gertrude Bell and Isabelle Eberhardt are among her favourites. Nicky can be contacted at editors [at] hiddeneurope.eu.

This article was published in hidden europe 46.