IN 2016, the writer Nan Shepherd made history by becoming the first woman to feature on a Scottish bank note.

Yet, despite the recognition, she still strikes a mysterious figure – an enigma who dressed as a prim school teacher but liked to bathe naked in mountain tarns; a woman who lived as a spinster but had a love affair with a mystery man, and a successful author who seemingly abandoned her writing after just three novels, even though she was hailed as the Scottish Virginia Woolf and compared with the likes of Thomas Hardy.

She was also one of the first UK authors whose work was influenced by Buddhist and Eastern philosophy but was so far ahead of her time that it is only in recent years that her writing has really taken off – so much so that her book The Living Mountain has been translated into 16 languages and inspired a tour by Icelandic singer Bjork.

So who is the woman behind the image on the bank note? It is a puzzle addressed by award-winning Borders-based Firebrand Theatre Company who have made three podcasts about her in association with Pitlochry Festival Theatre and which can be heard free of charge on October 24, November 21 and January 30.

“We wanted to see if we could meet Nan the woman in person, through dramatising her in a series of podcasts that we eventually might make into a stage play,” said Firebrand director Richard Baron. “When we did our research we found an exceptional woman who rather belied the glamorous portrait on the note. She was someone who lived in a small Aberdeenshire village for most of her life and yet had written three very extraordinary, feminist modernist novels in the late 1920s and 30s but were forgotten about and were out of print for most of her life.”

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Although her novels were acclaimed by critics, Baron said the problem was that her publishers were English and based in London.

“She loved using Doric in her books because she thought it was extremely expressive and imaginative but the English publishers didn’t really understand some of the language she was using,” said Baron. “Her novel The Quarry Wood was finally published with a glossary at the back with all the ‘foreign’ Scots words, which she thought was ridiculous and unnecessary.”

This, and an extremely bad review from Sunset Song author Lewis Grassic Gibbon may have put Shepherd off writing, Baron thinks. The theory is that Grassic Gibbon felt she was treading on his patch because her work was set in a similar location with a female lead character and a similar use of dialect.

“He may have seen her as a bit of a rival even though Sunset Song came out after the first two of her novels,” said Baron. “She seems to have largely stopped writing fiction pretty soon after. I don’t think she was that confident in her work and the review could have put her off.”

Her most famous book now is the non-fiction The Living Mountain which was written during the Second World War but didn’t see the light of day until 1977 when Shepherd was in her 80s.

Baron thinks her love affair with a mystery man (who he believes was her best friend’s husband) and The Living Mountain, a paean to the high hills of Scotland, were linked.

“She immersed herself in nature and found a new way of expressing her love and coming to terms with herself in the mountains,” said Baron. “She doesn’t delve deeply into Eastern philosophy but she was certainly influenced by it.

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“She would bathe naked in the tarns, walk barefoot in the heather and loved sleeping on the mountains. She sees her relationship with the mountains as experiencing a friendship, which is a lovely way to express it.”

Shepherd showed the manuscript to only one London publisher who rejected it so she put it in a drawer where it stayed for years. Second thoughts led her to self-publish the book in 1977 but it wasn’t until recently that it gained fame, particularly during the pandemic lockdowns.

“One of the great assets of the book’s philosophy is that it is good for your mental health and it has interested people from all over the world, including Bjork who did a concert tour based on it,” said Baron.

“Nan was very much a woman ahead of her time. She was also a very passionate but unconventional teacher - very much like a Prime of Miss Jean Brodie character. She loved Scottish literature and one of things she wanted to impress on her students was that Scotland had a literature and it was important they should read it.”

For free tickets for A Journey With Nan Shepherd visit and