I smile up to the semi-clear sky, take my camera out of my backpack, and get a clear shot of Holyrood Palace from outside. It’s stately, of course, and quite impressive with three stories nestled between two towers.
Growing up spending my summers in Ireland with my Da’s family, I visited castles, but never a castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, actually lived. I’ve also never met Andrew Spence before, the star of my favorite television show.
Before the car service picked me up this morning, I met with the studio’s publicist who ran down a list of contest rules I’m obligated to follow: The biggest two consisting of not asking Mr. Spence to pose for photos, especially selfies, and no engaging him in conversation, especially personal questions. I am however allowed to take my own photos sans Mr. Spence. I tuck my camera securely into my backpack, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to cower from taking photos whenever I want. Mr. Spence better learn to stay out of my way if he doesn’t want to be photographed.
At least I can branch out on my own tomorrow and discover Scotland for myself for the rest of the week.
Since I’m a few minutes early, I take a seat on the empty bench in front of the fountain and wait for him to show up. I don’t wait long before I see a black sedan pull around to the entrance with a driver in front and a passenger in back. This configuration leads me to believe Andrew Spence has arrived.
I stand and shrug to myself before gathering my backpack and walking around to the entrance.
As I approach, he steps from the back of the car. From this distance, he is unrecognizable with beanie and sunglasses. I hesitate before approaching to ensure this is indeed the right person. He walks through the doors and I follow, electing to keep my distance until I’m certain.
As he removes his sunglasses while talking with the woman behind the admissions counter, I get a good eyeful. He’s taller and thinner than I thought, but definitely well built. I know he’s in his mid-thirties, but on the show he plays and looks a lot younger. He slides the beanie off his head and reveals those golden, long wavy locks. I’ve seen older pictures of him where his hair was shorter and darker, but this hair is his character’s signature feature.
Now that I’ve confirmed his identity, I approach him slowly. When I clear my throat and call his name, he turns to me with a huge grin.
I offer my hand, but he leans in to give me a bear hug. “Hi, you must be Faith Harris. I’m Andrew and it’s so lovely to meet you.” He gives me an extra squeeze, then steps back. “Is it okay if I call you Faith?”
I open my mouth, but there’s no sound. I blink a couple of times and finally find my voice, “Um, hi. It’s wonderful to meet you as well. Yes, of course, Faith’s fine.” My neck heats up, rising to my face and I can only hope there’s no telltale crimson creeping onto my face.
This man is way more beautiful than I could ever imagine with a face so open and friendly, it’s almost heartbreaking.
He responds with an even brighter smile and squeezes my hand in comfort. That helps me regain my composure somewhat.
I continue more formally and with a little stretch of the truth for politeness. “Thank you so much for being my guide today. This has to be a terrible inconvenience for you, but I do appreciate it and I’m really looking forward to it.”
He touches his forehead in mock salute. “There’s no inconvenience at all.” He reaches for my hand again and looks at me intently. “It gives me a chance to see my country through new eyes and that’s a special sort of adventure. I’ve had this day circled on my calendar ever since they announced the contest.”
I respond a little too stiffly, “That’s extremely gracious of you.”
As we walk through the entry of the castle, I take it all in. “This place is amazing and much larger than I imagined.”
He gives me a wink and replies, “It would have to be for her majesty.” He bumps my arm with his own. “What are you most looking forward to seeing here?”
I return his arm bump. “Hmm, I would imagine Bald Agnes’s ghost.”
He lets out a hearty laugh.
I say with a little more seriousness, “Mary, Queen of Scots, has always been a fascinating historical figure to me.”
Andrew finally quells his mirth. “Are you a fan of history, then?”
I immediately answer, “Definitely! I was actually in the history club in college if you can picture it.” I notice his smile. “We would take trips to places like New Orleans and Vicksburg to soak up the various historical landmarks in those cities. Most were civil war related as you can imagine.”
I’m rewarded with a deep chuckle. “Aye, I can imagine although I would think there would be quite a bit of voodoo lore as well.”
I nod in agreement. “Oh yes, quite a bit.”
Before we mount the steep spiral staircase to the apartment, Andrew takes his cell phone out of his pocket and puts his arm around me for a selfie. “You don’t mind, do you? I’d love a cheeky photo to post to my Instagram.”
I nod in agreement and smile into the camera trying not to look too flustered.
He snaps the picture and asks if I want to take one with my phone? I look at him with raised eyebrows, remembering the rules of the day. “Umm, maybe a little later.” I give him a weak smile, but he just shrugs as we climb the stairs.
I think I know the answer, but I want to confirm, “How far is it to the Castle from here?”
I direct this question to Boyd, Andrew’s youthful driver who I have severe reservations is old enough to shave, let alone drive.
He responds cheerily, “Oh just a little over a mile or so, miss.”
I turn to Andrew with a sly smile, “Would you mind terribly if we walked over?”
He instantly replies, “I wish I’d thought of that.” He directs Boyd what time to meet us for lunch and we set off.
We stroll down the Royal Mile passing the Scottish Parliament building, the Museum of Edinburgh, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the Scottish Whisky Experience.
I take in the sites as we leisurely walk past these historical buildings, grateful we aren’t speeding past in a car.
I use my camera to get some really great shots, but Andrew photobombs a couple of them.
I remind him, “I’m not supposed to take any pictures of you.”
He sort of rolls his eyes and waves me off.
By the time we reach the castle, we only have about an hour to rush through. It was totally worth it to me though.
When we meet Boyd at the car, I ask Andrew how far the restaurant is.
He sees the glint in my eye, but cuts me off this time. “Oh it’s right down the hill, but we really need to give Boyd something to do or he may feel left out. Besides, there is nothing really to see between here and there.”
I resign myself to the backseat and he gets in after me.
He leans over the front seat as Boyd pulls out onto the street. “Have you taken your lunch then or were you hoping to dine with us?”
“Oh no, Andr…er, Mr. Spence. I’ve already found my lunch using the extra time while you walked over to the castle. You two enjoy.”
Andrew sits back and winks at me covertly. “We’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”
Literally two minutes later we pull up to the Castle Terrace restaurant-a thoroughly British establishment. It’s a four-story, brown building, except the part that houses the restaurant which is painted white with gray railings and door fixtures.
We enter and I notice the purple furnishing with more gray accents. Once seated, I review the menu – thoroughly British it may be, but the food is made in the French way.
I look over uncertainly at Andrew who isn’t looking at his menu at all. “Do you already know what you’re having?”
He leans in. “Aye, I’ve been here a time or two, but not usually for lunch.”
I glance back at my menu and sigh.
I look over at him again as he’s eying me speculatively. “I could order for you if you like. Do you trust me?”
I nod slowly, trusting this stranger, at least with my lunch order.
The first course of Jerusalem artichoke arrives. This is something I’ve heard of, but never actually tasted. It’s delicious, of course. Along with it came a sort of soup with ravioli. After eating half of it, I look to Andrew inquisitively.
He raises his eyebrows equally questioning. “Are you sure you want to know?”
Instead of red creeping up my neck, I think it may be green.
I nod hesitantly.
He says solemnly, “The ravioli is stuffed with partridge.”
My stomach rumbles in protest, but I say resolutely, “This is what I wanted – to experience all of what Scotland has to offer.” I put my spoon down anyway.
While we’re waiting for the next course, Andrew leans in and says, “We’re waiting on plaice next.” He seems a little too entertained by this. “I don’t want you to be taken off guard again.”
I play along. “Ah, well, thanks for that. Certainly waiting on plaice will not surprise me in the least.” I drum my fingers on the table, looking around, before my gaze lands back on him. “What exactly is plaice?”
He roars in amusement. “Plaice is a fish, darling.”
“Well fish should be safe at least, even if I’ve never heard of it,” I say with little confidence.
Andrew shrugs. “I thought perhaps this would go over a little better than ox tongue.” He looks at me curiously. “This isn’t your first meal in Scotland, is it? When did you arrive?”
“No, it isn’t, but I’ve only eaten in the hotel so far.” I think back to reviewing the long itinerary for today. “I got in pretty late last night, but got up early for breakfast.”
He asks, “A full Scottish breakfast then?”
I shake my head. “Only some porridge, but it was filling. I don’t normally do sugar, but also had toast with creamy honey.” I roll my eyes to the heavens.
He chuckles knowingly. “You have to fit in some black pudding and haggis as well.” He says this with a sweet, yet devious smile. “Will you have time, I believe you’re leaving in the morning, right?”
I nod in acknowledgment. “Well, the contest does have me leaving in the morning, but I couldn’t come here and only have a day to explore, especially since the day was planned for me already.” I widen my eyes. “I mean I’m happy with the plans, but want to venture out on my own.”
He grins. “So the National Museum of Scotland isn’t on your list of things to do while in Edinburgh.” That’s what’s left on the afternoon agenda.
I sigh. “Honestly, no, but I don’t mind in the least, and you’ve been the most wonderful guide.” I start twirling my fork unconsciously. “I hope you don’t think I’m terribly unappreciative.”
He reaches for my hand to still the fork flipping. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
I feel some heat where he’s still holding my hand and I lock eyes with his. “I’m looking for more of an organic experience, I suppose.”
He gives my hand a reassuring squeeze, then releases it. “I wish I could spare you, but I’m obligated to finish the itinerary. Plus the studio photographer is meeting us this afternoon.”
I start twisting my napkin in my lap. “Andrew, please don’t get me wrong. I actually love museums. I go in Houston all the time. There’s just so much I want to see that I changed my return flight and extended my hotel on my dime so I could spend the week here exploring.”
The smile has returned to his face. “So, what’s on your personal agenda? If you don’t mind me asking.”
I lean in conspiratorially. “Well, for starters, I’ve got to bag one of these Munros everyone’s talking about.”
He actually laughs out loud at this. “Really? You want to take a wee hike? Do you know where you plan to go?”
I blink fast a couple times. “Yes, of course. I can’t pronounce the place-it’s clearly a Gaelic name-but it’s only a couple of hours from here and starts with a Stuc something.”
He nods. “Ah, would that be Stuc a’Chroin?”
“Yes, it would be actually.” I drop my napkin back into my lap as the waiter places our dessert in front of us. “You know it I suppose?”
“Most definitely. There aren’t many Munros within reach of here I haven’t bagged.” He takes a drink of his water. “It’s my favorite pastime, you see?”
I recall his many Twitter posts, triumphantly standing atop various mountains. “Really?”
He continues, “You have me completely fascinated now. What else is on your agenda for the week?”
I answer, “Well, tomorrow it’s the Stuc place, still can’t pronounce it. Then day after tomorrow, I’m going to drive over to Glasgow and do a walking tour, then get back here in time for the rugby match.” I wave my dessert spoon offhandedly. “The next day, I want to go mountain biking in Pentland Hills.
“I haven’t figured out the rest yet. Maybe go up to Inverness, although I may save the Highlands for my next trip to give them their due.”
He looks at me with his mouth wide open, then grins widely. “So it’s like that, is it? Munro bagging, mountain biking, and rugby? Who are you, woman? That sounds rather adventurous.”
I shrug. “Does it really? I think it sounds fun.”
“Aye, that too.” He shakes his head and digs into his crowdie cheesecake.
I smile a little into my own dessert.
As we ride to the museum, I thank Andrew for a wondrously delicious lunch and for selecting the menu for me.
The museum has some fascinating exhibits and we walk in companionable silence. Andrew is still friendly, but slightly quieter.
By the time the photographer shows up, I think we’re both a little worse for wear, but Andrew is the consummate professional and gamely entertains the photographer, and me, to make the shots fun.
As we’re walking through the last of the exhibits-the war uniforms and various implements of war-Andrew asks, “So is rugby big in Texas? Do you attend many matches?”
I smile up to him, shaking my head. “Not at all. We have a national team, and I’m fortunate enough that they have played in our soccer stadium the last couple of years, actually playing Scotland one summer and Ireland another.”
He nods. “Do you like sports then?”
I laugh ruefully. “I love almost all sports. I’d probably watch paint dry if someone could be declared a winner.”
He laughs at my little joke. “I go to quite a few Glasgow Warriors’ matches.”
“Oh, is that where you live? In Glasgow?”
He leans in close to me and tucks a piece of hair behind my ear that has escaped my tight bun. “Not permanently, no. I’ll be there for as long as the show runs.”
I take a small step back. “How long of a break do you have now?”
He thinks a moment. “Hmm a little over four months. At least from shooting. I’ll be heading your way next week for some commitments in LA though.”
“Sounds like more of a working vacation,” I remark.
He rubs the stubble that has started sprouting on his chin. “Aye, but I’m taking some long overdue meetings. I hope to snag a film or something like that during the next break.”
“I’m sure Los Angeles will welcome you with open arms next week.” I look at him thoughtfully. “It certainly won’t be like today. You won’t be able to walk down the street without the fans mobbing you.”
He gives me a sly grin. “Oh, you think so, huh? I like interacting with the fans. It’s a great feeling when your work is appreciated.”
I’m thoughtful for a moment. I’m a fan of the series, but am I a fan of Andrew Spence? I’m not sure if I was before I met him this morning, but I am now. “I can tell you like interacting with the fans, from personal experience now.” I touch his arm. “You’ve been a gracious host. Today could have gone any number of ways, but you made it memorable for me.”
That earns me a heartfelt hug. I’m taken off guard and I begin to realize that I let down my guard hours ago. I stiffen slightly and he steps back to look at my face. I try to give a smile, but I can’t imagine it’s very comforting. He doesn’t say anything, but grabs my hand to lead me to the car.
The ride to my hotel is relatively silent. I wonder if I’ve offended Andrew in some way. I sink back into my seat and fold my arms. I went into today thinking that it would be sort of miserable and it ended up being anything but.
When we pull up in front of my hotel, Boyd moves to open his door, but Andrew puts a stilling hand on his shoulder over the seat. Instead, he opens his own door and gets out.
I look around to make sure I have everything in my backpack. Before I turn to my door, I say, “Thank you, Boyd. It’s been a great day.”
“Cheers, miss,” he replies.
I take Andrew’s proffered hand and step through the door he has opened for me.
I open my mouth to give my prepared speech, but before I can say anything, Andrew begins speaking, “I hope you enjoyed today. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind some company tomorrow. I’d love to help you bag that Munro.”
I have zero time to compose my face because I am taken completely off guard. I make a feeble attempt at a response, “Y-you, uh, what?”
He looks alarmed for a moment, then tries again, “I don’t want to intrude, but I do know quite a bit about the area you want to go into and I don’t have anything pressing until I leave for LA next week, so I thought if you didn’t mind, I would go with you.” He shrugs. “If you want to be alone though, I completely understand and will not be offended in the least.”
I nod slowly. He did say Munro bagging was his favorite thing to do and I am going Munro bagging, so maybe this isn’t as weird as I thought.
I finally compose myself enough to give a real answer. “If you want to go, I’d be happy for the company.” I try to give him an easy smile which I must manage since he returns it without alarm this time.
“I’m wondering if you might consider doing Ben Vorlich first which is a bit smoother especially considering it’s your first.” He can see me narrowing my eyes. “No, no, I’m sure you think I’m trying to take over now that I’ve invited myself along, but I’ve been up both, and if you trust me, it would be better to do Ben Vorlich first, then we can walk across to Stuc a’Chroin.”
I agree reluctantly, “I suppose that would be okay.”
“Would it be agreeable if I pick you up in the morning, say around five? We need to get an early start to get up there and down at a comfortable pace.”
I’m actually relieved to not have to drive. I wasn’t looking forward to trying to manage the wrong side of the street plus the wrong side of the car.
I half-heartedly ask, “Are you sure you want to drive?”