The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (Folio Society, 2021)

All are aspects of one entity, the living mountain.

Abandoned in a drawer for three decades, The Living Mountain is Nan Shepherd’s love letter to the Cairngorm Mountains, in whose shadow she lived her life. Part memoir, part philosophical guidebook, it was finally published in 1977 and has since come to be viewed as an influential classic of the nature writing genre. The Folio Society’s decision to publish the book in 2021 was, therefore, welcomed by many. Originally sold for £39.95, there was also an edition signed by the introducer and illustrator for a more lofty £125.

We receive a plain blue slipcase of reasonably sturdy construction containing a volume bound in cloth with the title and author’s name printed on the spine in a blue cartouche. The binding is sewn with blue and white head and tail bands. The binding material has a satisfying canvas-like coarseness that makes it quite a joy to handle. The boards are decorated with a wrap-around design by illustrator Rose Strang—more on the illustrations in just a moment.

Opening the book reveals plain blue endpapers, followed by a title spread on which a black and white photograph of the author serves as a frontispiece. Everything is printed on Abbey Wove paper, Folio’s go-to choice these days, in a face called Columbus. Baket Signet is used to typeset the display.

Shepherd’s writing itself is impassioned, wistful, and frequently philosophical. She appears to have a connection to her subject of the deepest kind, lending parts of the book the quality of an almost trance-like stream of consciousness. It lacks the chirpy accessibility of H. E. Bates’ Through the Woods or the clinical academic precision of W. G. Hoskins’ The Making of the English Landscape. Instead, this is more like a tour with your eccentric hippie aunt: you know she’s slightly mad, but you can only hope that some of her passion rubs off on you.

I have wanted to come to the living things through the forces that create them, for the mountain is one and indivisible, and rock, soil, water and air are no more integral to it than what grows from the soil and breathes the air. All are aspects of one entity, the living mountain.

Non Shepherd, The Living Mountain

Rose Strang’s illustrations are rendered in oil and have a painterly ephemeral quality to them that perfectly matches the tone of the book. They include seven full page illustrations and the wrap-around cover image. All of the images are wonderfully evocative of the desolate, atmospheric beauty of the Cairngorm landscape, doing a great job of sucking you in to Shepherd’s world. Outstanding work! There’s also an original map that looks like it could be the start of a treasure hunt, making up in style for what it lacks in legibility.

The edition contains a clever introduction by nature writer and scholar Robert MacFarlane, who counts the book among his own influences. MacFarlane waxes lyrical about Shepherd, her work, the mountains that are her subject, and Strang’s illustrations. It’s a passionate piece that serves its purpose of enthusing the reader for the text that is to follow. ■

Where to buy

At the time of writing, this book is still available direct from The Folio Society here (or in its rather more expensive signed edition here). Alternatively, you can search for this edition on:

eBay US*, eBay UK*, AbeBooks US*, or AbeBooks UK*.

You can browse more generally for Folio Society books at:
eBay US*, eBay UK*, AbeBooks US*, or AbeBooks UK*.

* These are affiliate links. Buying a book via one of these links produces a modest revenue for this site at no additional cost to you. Any revenue thus generated is recycled into providing more content for the site.

Miscellaneous

Artist Rose Strang has a nice series of blog posts about illustrating this edition, the first of which is here. There’s even the chance to see some artworks that didn’t make the cut.

Nan Shepherd, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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