Head of School Peter Becker announced the walk at Advisor Lunch on Tuesday, and shared with students and faculty a passage about the history of the walk, as depicted in “The Keewaydin Way, A Portrait: 1893 ‒ 1983,” by Brian Back. The Keewaydin Camps were founded in Maine in the late 19th century by a Gunnery alumnus, A.S. Gregg Clarke. Clarke was an 1870s graduate of the school, and would have been among the students who camped with Mr. and Mrs. Gunn at Point Beautiful on Lake Waramaug. Those summer camps followed the legendary school walk in 1861 from Washington to Milford, for which Mr. Gunn became known as the “father of recreational camping.” It is that adventure that the school commemorates each year on or close to Mr. Gunn’s birthday in the tradition of the All-School Walk. The passage that Becker read included a newspaper reporter’s account of what it was like to observe Mr. Gunn and his students on that historic trip. As Back wrote:
“In 1861, he made his mark on American history by incorporating the first recognized camping adventure into a school program. The entire student body travelled 40 miles to Welch’s Point near Milford on Long Island Sound for the two-week experiment at ‘roughing it’ in the woods, living by their own hands. They called it the ‘Gypsy Trip’. An observer noted the foray.
On the summit of a slight ascent in the road, I was greeted with the appearance of a noble span of donkeys attached to a cart. In each were half a dozen boys, testing the strength of a hickory stick on the back of the ‘critter’ nearest him. The animals seemed to enjoy the sport as much as the boys, and were evidently of the opinion that the youngsters were doing their utmost at keeping off the flies.
Before my astonishment was over, a single team came on, carrying two individuals of a species which was new to me. They afterward turned out to be ladies in bloomer costume.
A huge, circular, canvas-covered wagon appeared, drawn by four horses and full of kettles, pans, bedding and a grand assortment of utensils. Another and another came, and then a couple of chaps with blue shirts and two-foot straw hats.
‘What is this caravan, anyhow?’ I asked.
‘Why,’ one answered, ‘don’t you know? We are pilgrims from the Gunnery,’ and passed on.
Next came two more covered wagons and a troop of young men in every kind of costume, bearing fish-poles, guns and all sorts of queer things. Directly behind came a stalwart, venerable-looking gentleman in a Scotch cap. His bearing indicated he was the manager of the procession.
‘I say, my good sir, are you the boss of this caravan?’
‘I am sir,’ he replied, with a smile that revealed his kindly disposition. ‘I am the great mogul of this extensive and motley pilgrimage.’
‘What’s it all about?’ I queried.
‘Why, didn't you ever hear of the “Pilgrims from the Gunnery?”
Although as Becker noted, the route has changed over time – alumni from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, for example, may remember hiking to the top of Mount Tom, and earlier walks took students to Lake Waramaug – this year students and faculty followed in the footsteps of their contemporaries by hiking from campus into Steep Rock and back again. The hilly, eight-mile route took them out the main gate, down Barnes Road to Kirby Brook Road and up Spring Hill, along the old railroad bed and on to the iconic train tunnel, the clamshell loop and across Hauser Bridge, where they began their ascent to the Pinnacle, with its breathtaking view of the clamshell below. The last leg took them back down the hillside, along the river and across the bridge to the riding ring before they returned to campus, where a picnic awaited on the quad.
Higher than average rainfall in September and October resulted in wet and muddy conditions on the trails, while the Shepaug River appeared to be running much higher than normal. In the canopy above the trail, the autumn show was just beginning, and the orange, red and gold hues mingling with green only enhanced the appeal of spending the day outdoors as a school. “It’s a great thing for us to be together and go back to who we are as a school,” Becker said.