Anna Shepherd, also known as Nan, was born on February 11th 1893 in East Peterculter at Westerton Cottage close to Aberdeen in the North-East of Scotland. Nan was an author, college teacher, an avid mountain climber. Not only did Shepherd write poems and author books she also edited different magazines. Various colleagues and students remember Shepherd’s “sense of humour, her spellbinding teaching talent, and a feminist approach in her lectures years [as being] ahead of her time” (Smith). Shepherd was a very private person “and was modest to the point of dismissiveness about her own fiction” (Smith).
Shepherd was born to John and Jane Smith Shepherd, and was the second child of John who was a civil engineer. Other family members in Shepherd’s family also held respectable occupations. Shepherd’s great uncle Dr. William Kelly was a highly praised architect in Aberdeen, her grandparents on her father’s side were farmers from Strachan and Drum, her grandfather on her mother’s side was a local tailor in the city of Aberdeen, and her brother Frank followed in the footsteps of her father and became a civil engineer. Unfortunately Nan’s brother had “died in South Africa, where he had gone to recuperate after serving in the First World War” (Smith). Not too much information is offered about Shepherd’s mother or what she did, so one can assume that she was a stay at home mom of some sorts.
One month after being born Shepherd’s family packed up and moved to the city of Cults. In the city of Cults which was three miles away from Aberdeen, Shepherd’s family moved into a house called “Dunvegan, [at] 503 North Deeside Road”(Smith). Shepherd attended the Cults primary school where she went back later in her eighties to tell the students what it was like to be taught during the turn of the century. After primary school Shepherd attended the Aberdeen high school for girls where she began to start writing poetry. Once graduated high school, Shepherd went on to the University of Aberdeen where she graduated with an MA in 1915. While a student at the University of Aberdeen Shepherd edited the Alma Mater which allowed her to publish many of her poems.
When Shepherd graduated from the University of Aberdeen she joined the Aberdeen Training Centre for Teachers which would later be known as the Aberdeen College of Education (Smith). In 1919 Shepherd became a lecturer at the Centre until she retired in 1956. While teaching at the University of Aberdeen, Shepherd edited the Aberdeen University Review from 1957 – 1964. In the review wrote “essays on subjects such as Hugh MacDiarmid, the poet Charles Murray, and women in the university from 1892 to 1942” (Smith). In 1964 Shepherd was awarded a honorary doctorate degree from the University of Aberdeen for her hard work and dedication at the school.
Even though Shepherd was a lecturer she still found time to publish three books, and a volume of poetry while working. In 1928 Shepherd published her first novel The Quarry Wood, which is a novel written about a young women who fights for a University Education with vivid descriptions of the university that she cared very much for. Later in 1930 Shepherd Published The Weatherhouse, which deals with traditions of small communities in the North-East of Scotland and being surrounded by beautiful mountains. Shepherd’s third novel A Pass in the Grampians published in 1933 is very much like The Weatherhouse. In 1934 Shepherd publishes her only volume of poetry In the Cairngorm. This collection of poetry combines nature, mountains, and intellect. The collection of poetry ends with a series of love sonnets which Shepherd said “very few people understand them which makes me feel better” (Smith). Finally in 1977 Shepherd published The Living Mountain, a book of meditations dedicated to the Cairngorm Mountains which was first written in the 1940’s but left unpublished.
In Shepherd’s late eighties she became very ill and lived in a nursing home at Annesley House in Torphins. On February 27th, 1981 Shepherd died at Aberdeen Woodend Hospital at the age of 88. What I found most interesting about Shepherd’s life and career was her dedication to the mountains. Not only did Shepherd push the boundaries in a literary way, she pushed the boundaries in outdoor activities. Hiking and climbing during the golden age of mountaineering, Shepherd was part of the small percent of women that took part in this particular lifestyle. Her love for the mountains helped her literary career in many ways and wrote many breath taking pieces in dedications to the mountains. Nan Shepherd lived a wonderful and productive life and will forever be memorialized with her stone slab outside of Makars’ Court next to the Scottish Writers’ Museum in Lady Stair’s Close, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ali Smith, ‘Shepherd, Anna (1893–1981)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/59071, accessed 25 Feb 2013]