by Samantha Kraupner
Note: TIBS’ good friend Samantha Kraupner recently attended Novel Adventures’ annual summer “Gathering on the Ridge.” Kim Puhrmann is the owner of Novel Adventures (www.noveladventuresvacations.com), a unique travel company that organizes private and group tours based on the client’s favorite books. Outlander and Scotland tours have been extremely popular themed vacations for her clients for the past few years. In addition to the activities that were part of the Gathering – an afternoon tea, classes, hikes, and an outing to the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain – Samantha was part of a small group that was allowed to interview guest Gary Lewis, Outlander’s Colum Mackenzie – although “interview” might not be the precise word for the chance they had to sit down with this consummate story teller. (For a report from the other participants, please listen to our radio broadcast from July – click here). Here’s her account of this beautiful event and her discussion with Gary.
I just got back from “Outlander Summer Camp” and I can’t wait to talk about it! From July 10th to 14th I attended the Novel Adventures “Gathering on the Ridge” in North Carolina. For the past 5 years, in conjunction with the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games held the second weekend in July, Kim Puhrmann and her Novel Adventures group take over the Mast Farm Inn with 50 fans of the book (and television series) Outlander. This charming farmhouse B&B and the various mountain cabins on the Mast Farm grounds is the backdrop for a unique week of food, friends and fun. Kim and her team have run this annual event now for 5 years, each year inviting someone from the Starz Outlander production to be her special guest.
In past years she has hosted Gillebride MacMillan, Graham McTavish, Cesar Domboy and David Berry. This year the special guest was Gary Lewis. Gary was gracious to set aside a few minutes after breakfast on Sunday this year to talk to a few attendees with online blogs. While we were asked to prepare a small list of questions for the press interview, it quickly became apparent that, as with all things, Gary Lewis’ enthusiasm can not be controlled. Not that we minded in the slightest. Gary’s answers tended to wander a bit as he weaved his way through his answers. But it was in the detours and side trips of the conversation where we were able to glimpse the heart and soul of this immensely talented actor.
“Outlander Summer Camp”
But before I talk about the special guest, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how wonderful this whole weekend is every year. This was my third year attending, and every year I make and strengthen friendships with some of the nicest people in the Outlander fandom. I heard several people this year refer to the event as “Outlander Summer Camp”. And not just because there was nightly singing around the campfire! But the term seems appropriate, as it was similar to the summer camps of my youth. A small group of like minded people coming together and through shared experiences, bonding and making friendships that will last for years.
Each July, 50 people meet for a 5-day, 4-night stay at the historic Mast Farm Inn in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The Mast Farm Inn serves delicious gourmet meals and furnishes each room and cabin with the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in! When we weren’t eating or sleeping, Kim Puhrmann and her Novel Adventures team had a schedule of activities tailored to ensure everyone learned something new and interesting, met new people and had a fun and relaxing time. Each year there are plenty of physical activities to choose from like morning hikes, zip lining, horseback riding, tubing and archery.
There are also all kinds of creative craft classes, many of which would have been activities that might have been done by settlers in the North Carolina mountains in the late 1700s. Things like weaving, knitting, candle making, jewelry making, paper making, stained glass and cross stiych classes to name but a few over the past years. There are also fascinating historical and educational classes like Gaelic language, sword dancing, painting, history talks, foraging walks and Native American storytelling. And, of course, it is always an option to just sit on the porch in a rocking chair and drink lemonade or iced tea. This year there was also a fantastically decorated tea party out by the brook. And on Friday evening we learned about the history of a local family’s moonshine business and then everyone helped make and taste moonshine.
The group attends the Thursday night “Calling of the Clans” at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, as well as attending the games on Saturday where they and their celebrity guest are introduced and parade around the track. The highlight of the weekend is the Saturday night cocktail party, dinner and ceilidh. Additional guests join the original group of 50 for the dinner and ceilidh. This year’s live band, Syr, had everyone on their feet dancing all night.
Chatting with Gary
Gary was a treat to spend time with at this event. He is a captivating man with a lot of fascinating stories to tell. He is passionate about many things and loves to engage everyone he meets in interesting conversation. He has an infectious energy and ensures that everyone gets a hearty hug, handshake, and his undivided attention as he made a personal connection with every person he met. All weekend he regaled us with songs and stories, he quoted poetry, he spoke of his love of Scotland, his youth in Glasgow, his many varied jobs and acting roles, his pride in the charitable works he has been involved in, and so much more. Here is an excerpt from part of our interview with Gary.
Sam: If you could pick anything (besides being an actor), would you do anything else?
Gary: Oh, you’ll love this. My oldest son asked me this question years ago. I said, well I studied history and I like music. I like a lot of Scottish stories, poems and songs (older folk stuff and contemporary). And I said that I think that I could reach out and make connections with good accommodation and restaurants and I would organize tours of Scotland. Kind like what Kim is doing.
And I thought that I wouldn’t advertise, that I would just kind of get the first people to talk to people. Because you meet people from all over. And I said I’m organizing this tour because I’ve seen really poor ones. I was working in Scotland and I was seeing a bunch of American tourists and they were getting this tour guide and the tour guide was talking a lot of crap historically. And then these guys came in with tartan trousers and said that they were giving them Scottish culture and it was just rubbish. I thought these people are getting so short changed and they are paying a fortune for it. And they shouldn’t be getting ripped off like this. It would be real easy to give them a good experience. I can do that! I could organize musicians. And it wouldn’t be the same because you know these tour buses, the drivers, the operators – they get a hit if they deliver like forty tourists to a certain café. So it’s like a deal they get. Bring them all here. We’ll give them all substandard coffee and an old roll… it’s rubbish, you know? And I think, there is no need for this. You can shift it up a level. And so I told my son that is what I would do. And I said that I recon in a couple years that people would pick up off it. I said that people would just tell folk and then I would get folk from all over the world and I would just have a small group. And that would be it. That would be my life.
Sam: You weren’t born Gary Lewis.
Gary: No, I was born Gary Stevenson.
Sam: Was Lewis your middle name?
Gary: No. When you become an actor it is best to be in the union because you are really unprotected in a lot of ways if you are not. Sometimes you work in theaters that are just unsafe or you may get some dog of a director. It’s best for pay and everything to be in the union. But the union has a rule that everybody has to have a different name. There was already a Gary Stevenson in Belfast. I was so pissed off you know because I really couldn’t be hacked changing my name. So there is this beautiful book called Sunset Song. They’ve made a film of it. Skip the film. It is set in the northeast of Scotland. The main character in the book is called Chrissie Guthrie. And Chrissie is an astonishing female character. You should get a hold of this book. Some of the language because some of it is in Scots may be a bit difficult. But this book really touched my heart. It was written by a man called Lewis Grassic Gibbon, which wasn’t his real name, but I wanted to pay homage to a Scottish writer because I was so passionate about literature. I was doing a tour and I ended up in the Isle of Lewis. There was just a synchronicity of names.
So I called the union. I tried my mom’s name. But [then I asked] does anyone have Gary Lewis? No, you are good with that. So OK I’ll go with Gary Lewis. But it’s not my name! A lot of actors were slagging me giving me a hard time saying, “imagine the chance to change your name and keeping Gary?” Nobody is called Gary anymore. My mum loved Gary Cooper so that was how I got Gary. Get a hold of the Sunset Song. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book. And to think that this guy wrote a female central character. It’s set before the first world war. She falls in love with a lovely young man, a farmer. He gets conscripted and he is off in France. He comes home on leave. It is so hard. He comes home and he violates her. I’ve never seen the film because the book is so precious to me. It must have been like some of you guys who read Outlander and thought “is it going to be safe to watch it”. Then he goes back to war and he wakes up consciously and realizes he raped the woman he loves and married. And he basically starts to walk back to Scotland from France and he gets shot as a deserter. She goes to this place. It’s a piece of writing that is very reminiscent of the James Joyce short story The Dead.
John Christian did a film version of it. And at the end of this film version the last passage of the story is a man coming to terms with something. The passage in Sunset Song where Chrissie is trying to come to terms that she has lost everything, her love, her marriage is gone, everything. So she goes to this hill. And it is such a beautiful piece of writing. It is like something that the Dalai Lama would write. She watches the clouds. She says the clouds are moving over the places where the Pictish folk had lived. At the very end she remembers the words from her Greek lessons that “everything changes”. She embraces the notion of change and that there is no constant. Everything is in flux. And she is watching the clouds and the land and thinking of the big picture along with her personal life. So it’s because of Lewis Grassic Gibbon and how that book meant so much to me. This book just burst me open.
(Sam’s notes: Sunset Song is a 1932 novel by Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon. It is widely regarded as one of the most important Scottish novels of the 20th century. It is available at several popular audio book sites as well as widely found in hardback and paperback. The film is also able through Netflix and Amazon.)
All pictures taken by or courtesy Samantha Kraupner.
Listen to more about Samantha’s trip to the Gathering on the Ridge, and hear Pam Stecher and Jessica Gonzalez Raynante of Timeless Sass3nach Journeys talk about their questions for Gary: click here for the July 23, 2019 episode of The Outlander Gab on the Air! All previous broadcasts are available to listen to any time.
Follow me on Twitter: @ErinConrad2 and @threeifbyspace
Subscribe to get instant notice of new posts!
Like this post? Share it on social media with our share buttons