Living mountains and wild places

by Mary Caperton Morton
Monday, November 3, 2014

The Pools of Dee, located in the heart of the Lairig Ghru, are the headwaters for the River Dee. Credit: Mary Caperton Morton.

Mountains often boast a strong literary tradition, and the legendary Cairngorms are no exception. Two of the Highlands' most geo-minded authors are Nan Shepherd and Robert Macfarlane. Shepherd was born in 1893 and spent her whole life in Aberdeen, exploring the Cairngorm Mountains. Among the first female mountaineers, Shepherd also wrote novels, poetry and one nonfiction ode to the Cairngorms called “The Living Mountain.”

Shepherd wrote the book in the 1940s, but it was not published until 1977. It remained obscure until it was rediscovered by the modern-day writer Macfarlane, who wrote a new introduction for the book and lobbied to have it republished in 2011. Macfarlane is known for his explorations in the British Isles, recounted in his books “Wild Places” and “The Old Ways,” both of which feature adventures on foot in the Cairngorms.

The writings of Shepherd and Macfarlane greatly influenced my trip to the Cairngorms. For my first hike, I followed in Nan’s footsteps to the summit of Lurcher’s Crag, a Munro overlooking the Lairig Ghru, a glacially carved canyon through the heart of the Cairngorms. The next day, I hiked through the Lairig Ghru to the Pools of Dee, the headwaters of the River Dee, a place Macfarlane wrote about on his hike across the Cairngorms from Braemar to his Scottish grandfather’s funeral in Tomintoul.

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