Aberdeen to commemorate one of Scotland’s finest novelists
A commemorative plaque is to be unveiled to celebrate an Aberdeen-born writer and poet, who has been described as ‘one of Scotland’s finest novelists of the early twentieth century’.
Anna Shepherd known as Nan Shepherd was born in February 1893 in Aberdeen and grew up at ‘Dunvegan’ 503 North Deeside Road, Cults and lived there until her death in February 1981.
As one of the first women to graduate from the University of Aberdeen (1915) Nan Shepherd was a gifted and inspiring teacher and lecturer of English Literature, who was engaged in literary activity all her adult life; editing and reviewing as well as writing.
Cults, Bieldside and Milltimber Community Council and Aberdeen Women’s Alliance submitted a joint nomination to Aberdeen City Council last year (2016) for a commemorative plaque for the acclaimed writer.
The plaque will be mounted at the entrance to ‘Dunvegan’ and will be a visible reminder to the public of Nan’s contribution to Scottish literature. The inscription will read: Nan Shepherd 1893 –1981, Novelist, Poet and Educator, Author of The Living Mountain, lived here at Dunvegan all her life.
Aberdeen City Councillor Baillie Alan Donnelly said: “It is a fitting tribute to Nan Shepherd that the City of Aberdeen marks her outstanding literary achievements by unveiling a commemorative plaque in her name. The plaque will be a reminder to residents and informs visitors to the city of the importance of Nan’s work and how she continues to inspire today.”
Guus Glass of the Cults, Bieldside and Milltimber Community Council said: “We are proud to have nominated Nan Shepherd for this recognition by the City of Aberdeen and are delighted that her life and achievements are to be honoured here in Cults where she lived all her life. We hope that the plaque will help to preserve her memory and inspire people to read her books.”
Heather Spence of Aberdeen Women’s Alliance said: “We are proud to have proposed Nan Shepherd for this commemorative plaque honouring her contribution to education and literature in Scotland. One of the first women to graduate from the University of Aberdeen, she inspired generations of teachers and was ahead of her time in writing about the complexities of women’s lives in the early twentieth century.”
Nan Shepherd graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1915 and went on to teach English Literature at the Aberdeen Training Centre for Teachers, now the University’s School of Education, until her retirement in 1956. She was by all accounts a gifted and inspiring teacher, with a feminist approach in her lectures, ahead of her time. She was renowned for the enthusiasm with which she helped students, colleagues, and other writers.
Her three novels, The Quarry Wood (1928), The Weatherhouse (1930) and A Pass in the Grampians (1933) are set in rural communities in the north east, and are full of the earthy speech of its people and evocative description of its landscapes. The quality of her writing brought her critical acclaim in Scotland and internationally. Shepherd’s collection of poems, In the Cairngorms, deals mainly with her relationship with nature, particularly with the Grampian Mountains, where, as a keen hillwalker, she loved to spend time exploring. Whenever possible she escaped to the hills, and continued to do so long after her retirement.
Her final published work The Living Mountain also reflects on her experience of walking in the Cairngorms and is a series of meditations on the mountains and the life forms within them. Like her fiction and poetry, this book is underpinned by philosophical thought and soon became recognised as a masterpiece of landscape literature. It has brought many thousands of readers to see the Scottish landscape with new eyes.
Nan Shepherd was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Aberdeen in 1964 and she is commemorated in Edinburgh’s Makars’ Court with her own stone bearing the words from The Quarry Wood, “it’s a grand thing to get leave to live.” More recently, last year, her significance was acknowledged in the decision to place her image on the Royal Bank of Scotland five pound note.
A civic reception was held at the Town House on Tuesday 20 June at which members of the Cults, Bieldside and Milltimber Community Council and Aberdeen Women’s Alliance, joined Baillie Donnelly to celebrate Nan Shepherd’s life and to see the commemorative plaque before it is installed at the entrance of Nan’s former home.
The cost of creating and installing the plaque is £261 + VAT and is being funded jointly by Cults, Bieldside and Milltimber Community Council and Aberdeen Women’s Alliance. A date has yet to be set for the installation of the plaque.