Nan Shepherd’s work The Living Mountain is widely considered the definitive nature guide to the Cairngorms. In The Hidden Fires, Merryn Glover uses Shepherd’s writing as a guide to uncover her own relationship with the mountains. Growing up in Himalayan Nepal & India, Glover is no stranger to mountains. But through her time spent living in Scotland’s largest national park and walking the footsteps of Shepherd, she discovers the scope of her own imagination and faces her inhibitions as she gets to know them more intimately.
Glover was the Park’s first writer-in-residence, taking up the position is 2019 through to 2020. Of course, that was the time of the world navigating an incredible time of strife. In the novel, part-memoir part-nature work, Glover uses her pandemic isolation to get closer to nature. She also uses Shepherd’s works to examine her psyche and build a bridge between time. Nearly a century separates the two women, but the themes explored in the book are timeless. From the geography of the region to the recent war history and from deforestation to the ecological impact of climate change; the author steeps the reader in mountain territory. The book is also an interesting thesis of how the experience of women has changed over the years – in some way Shepherd was far ahead of her times. But the fact that decades had passed between the time of writing and when The Living Mountain was published adds an extra dimension to the work.
Not all accounts in Glover’s work are serious through. The book is peppered with humorous incidents and many visitors to Scotland will relate to the longing of having a place to oneself, without a hundred tourists and a million midges. The authors personal anecdotes make for a lighthearted balance. This is a beautiful book that is a fitting tribute to Scotland’s most famous nature writer, but also her most famous mountains.