SMC’s ‘retired’ Gunn leading Scotland hikesPublished 9:14am Friday, September 18, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Ron Gunn says Scotland stands as one “the last great secrets in vacationing,” though Hollywood turns to its stunning scenery again and again for vistas of rugged mountains, craggy coastal cliffs, quaint medieval cities such as Edinburgh and palm trees.
Palm trees, shown growing in Plockton, prove how temperate the climate is, though some describe the weather as “scattered sun.”
“My daughters love to have their toes in the sand and the sun on their bodies in Maui or Key West, but after our trip to Scotland, they’d rather be on a coastal hike with horizontal rain. That’s just how charming and how beautiful the country is,” Gunn said, adding that a “big difference” exists between Scotland and Ireland.
In Scotland, “You really don’t go up and over mountains,” he said. “You go along lochs and through glens.” When you come to unfenced cliffs, “You’ve got to be really careful” to not plunge to your death.
On coastal hikes it’s not unusual to see dolphins and sea lions. “They’ve got a lot of wildlife I didn’t know they had,” he said.
Gunn, a Dowagiac Rotarian, retired from Southwestern Michigan College as dean of sports education, but remains active with SMC’s extreme sports program.
This morning he took 56 students white water rafting in West Virginia.
With the first student housing open along with the expansion of the Student Activities Center in the Charles O. Zollar Building, the campus he has been a part of since 1967 “has gone to a whole new level of vibrancy.”
“Gunn is a Scottish name,” he said, “and the first time I went I found it very charming. They have two words in Scotland when it comes to hiking – ascend and bog. You do a lot of climbing and you walk through a lot of wet stuff. I had an exhilarating hike and I walked into a pub, where the barkeep said, ‘Been out and about?’ ”
He imitates the “charming” brogue.
Gunn has even turned his fascination with the Scottish Highlands into a sideline business, Cairn Stone Adventure Tours.
From the club, Dick Judd signed on for the 2010 trip he filled 48 hours after announcing it.
His program combined his own photography with postcards set to bagpipe music.
“Scotland is a beautiful country,” he told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889. “I went over with my son and daughter in November a year ago, then I went back with my two daughters very early in May. It was like Seattle, Wash., pretty lush,” though Pokagon Band Tribal Court Judge David Peterson, who visited more recently, said he enjoyed pleasant weather.
Gunn’s itinerary includes the small town where Sean Connery, alias cinema 0007 spy James Bond, rides his horses. His hikers will experience a bed and breakfast.
“I drove both times,” Gunn said. “If I get on a road by myself, you really want to focus because you drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in the ‘wrong’ side of the car.”
A bridge in Stirling relates to a battle in “Braveheart,” the Mel Gibson movie filmed there and in Ireland.
Another stop of two nights will be in a resort city while they pursue “cool” coastal hikes.
“Wherever you go in Scotland – in Europe – there are a lot of castles,” he narrates. “We went up to the Lost Valley in Glencoe, which is in the Highlands and is one of the most beautiful areas in Scotland. We were going up in our shirtsleeves,” passing bundled-up descending Scots who merely refer to hiking as “walking.”
In some images the pine forest gives way to a band of white above the treeline until climbers reach the snowy summit two miles up.
“On the way down, you follow the cairn stones, which are piles of rocks,” Gunn said. “Just fabulous hikes,” with waterfalls and heather dotting the landscape.
“We’re going to go over to the Isle of Skye,” Gunn said. “We catch the ferry in a little town called Mallaig on the coast.” The Isle of Skye is home to the famous spire, Old Man of Storr.
Gunn also recommends the movie “Local Hero,” a 1983 film directed by Bill Forsyth and starring Peter Riegert, Burt Lancaster, Denis Lawson and Peter Capaldi.
It is set in the fictional fishing village of Ferness on the west coast.
“You see a lot of Scots out walking their dogs,” Gunn marveled. “These people are ‘chronologically enhanced’ – they’re not young. They’re very vigorous people.”
“The Episcopalian church is very big over there,” he mentions to Father Rick Swanson, pastor of St. Paul’s in Dowagiac.