After my time working in a hostel on the Isle of Skye got cut short earlier this year, I thought the rest of the year would be spent living at home with my parents. It’s 2020, after all. The year of Covid, social distancing and restrictions. It’s without a doubt the worst year this generation has collectively experienced. But around the end of August when hospitality reopened in the UK, I started getting itchy feet and began scrolling through Workaway and job sites just to see what was available. Nothing off this tiny island of ours, nothing too drastic or risky.
Exactly one week after I started looking, I landed in Edinburgh to volunteer at CoDE Hostels. That’s all it took. And my tentative “one month and we’ll see how it goes” turned into three months living in my favourite city.
Sadly, the introduction of lockdown tiers in Scotland and full lockdown in England in November meant the hostel was forced to closed. I found myself abruptly leaving Scotland and heading back to Northwest England, yet again. But jeez, what an unforgettable three months I had.
What is Workaway?
In case you don’t know, Workaway is a website/app that connects people (usually backpackers seeking to extend their travels or pick up work experience) with business owners, homeowners, landowners or whoever needs temporary outside help. The ‘workawayers’ will (usually) receive accommodation and food in exchange for five hours work over five days a week. It can also be called a work exchange or simply volunteering. There are other sites like HelpX and WWOOF that have a similar concept.
I’ve now finished four Workaways in Europe. I always pay close attention to the Workaway reviews and I always choose Workaway jobs with accommodation and food/food allowance included. Some don’t include food and some offer extra perks, it totally depends. For example, the Workaway I did in Granada included the opportunity to join the yoga classes and the local chef made all our food, too, as well as the guests’.
It’s a really helpful site that allows travellers to stay on the road longer, learn new skills and experience local culture more in-depth than they might if they were just passing through.
Three Amazing Months in Edinburgh, Scotland
Dates: Wednesday 26th August – Friday 20th November 2020
Staying at CoDE Hostel – The Court in Edinburgh
Recently opened in August 2019, CoDE Hostels have two locations in Edinburgh: The Court and The Loft. The Loft is based in New Town (which I never visited, but I know it’s a great co-living option for digital nomads) and The Court is next to St Giles Cathedral just off the Royal Mile. This is where I lived and worked for three whole months.
The hostel is located in a building which used to be Edinburgh’s oldest police station and prison. Of course, it’s been totally renovated with an industrial-chic decor, but the underground tasting rooms have remained largely untouched and many prison-esque elements have been incorporated into the hostel’s overall aesthetic.
It’s definitely one of the most luxurious hostels I’ve ever stayed in. And I absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for accommodation in Edinburgh! Super centrally located, offering both private and dorm rooms. The beds in the dorms are actually pods, fully separate from each other. As a volunteer, I stayed in staff-only rooms. Which, of course, was essential with social distancing and Government guidelines. I took a few snaps of the hostel so check it out for yourself…
Working at CoDE Hostel: Nightshift and Housekeeping
Workaway volunteers fulfilled three different roles: breakfast shift, night shift and housekeeping shift. Your role usually depended on what needed to be filled at the time of your arrival, but you could change if some volunteers left and new roles became available. I was given the nightshift (with some sporadic housekeeping ones) which I surprisingly liked. I’m a morning person and have very, very rarely voluntarily stayed up past 4:00. Why on earth would I like the nightshift?!
Well, I prefer to work alone and unsupervised. Just do, always have. And the nightshift involved minimal reception duties and cleaning of the common areas from 23:00-7:00, so the tasks were straight forward and easy to pick up. I usually worked two or three shifts back to back to make up my 20 hours per week requirement. With the rest of my days free to do as I pleased! The pros outweighed any cons for me.
Though we didn’t get food included/compensation like some other workaways, we did get a generous breakfast (including waffles!). Workawayers also got the opportunity to join a Haggis Adventures tour for free (more on that later) and the managers and staff were so friendly and helpful. CoDE was just an all-round positive place to work and live. If you’re looking for a long-term volunteering opportunity in Edinburgh, there isn’t anywhere better.
Time Off in Edinburgh: Craigmillar Castle, Calton Hill, Cramond Island & More!
This was my… *counts on fingers* eighth time visiting Edinburgh, so I’d seen a lot of the usual tourist attractions before. But even now, I’ve still not seen all of them! I have Portobello Beach, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Camera Obscura, a lot of pubs, some of Stockbridge and most of Leith still on my list.
New-to-me places around Edinburgh I did visit on my time off from the were Craigmillar Castle, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Scottish National Gallery, Gorgie’s Farm (essentially a petting zoo), a free Ghost Tour, The Pitt Market, Cramond Island with my Danish friend, Roslin Glen with my Texan (instead of just Rosslyn Chapel) as well as countless bookshops. Oh, and Calton Hill at sunset too, which was lovely but we were drinking Buckfast (another new-to-me experience, just tastes like cold mulled wine) so I’m conscious we probably looked like yobs.
Catching up, Reading and Relaxing
He’s not really an ‘old friend’ (especially when he’s multiple years younger than me) but catching up with Robbie, my Isle of Skye pal who moved back to Edinburgh after lockdown, was definitely a bonus. Just when he thought he’d gotten rid of me, I move to his city! Mwah-ha-ha!
He took me to so many different coffee shops and helped me decide on my favourite flat white in Edinburgh (it’s The Milkman, in case you were wondering) as well as a couple of cracking cheese toastie places (Cairngorm Coffee and Meltmongers) and one pub (The Hanging Bat) before the pubs were shutdown. That’s a pitiful amount for two craft beer fans. I’ll just have to go back to Edinburgh when the pubs reopen then, won’t I?!
I could have done more with my time in Edinburgh (though there’s always more to do) but I’m pleased I spent much of it just strolling around and reading in The Meadows, which is a huge park near the university. Though my blogging efforts were almost non-existent. I think if I’m going to travel and work in the future, I need to be more mindful of balancing sleeping, eating, exercising, working and, you know, having fun in amongst all of that. But my mum did make the excellent point that after five months stuck at home staring at a screen, three months off was probably what I needed.
Day Trips from Edinburgh: North Berwick & Outlander Locations Tour
Again, I didn’t do too many day trips from Edinburgh (Covid-19 travel restrictions were a factor, plus watching them pennies, of course) but the ones I did were awesome.
Before it got too cold, I took the train 30 minutes along the coast to North Berwick. It’s a gorgeous little seaside town that’s featured in films like The Railway Man (2013) and Outlaw King (2018) so of course, I had to visit. I walked out to Tantallon Castle and Seacliff beach and ate pastries from Bostock Bakery. The sun was shining and it was a perfect day date with myself and me.
Literally the same week, I went on my Haggis Adventures Outlander locations tour! I only started watching the Outlander TV show in September 2019 but became instantly obsessed. It’s filmed prolifically throughout Scotland with a few of the best filming locations (like Doune Castle AKA Castle Leoch) close to Edinburgh. And since I got the tour for free through the hostel (and it was the last Outlander tour of the year!) I felt incredibly fortunate. It was such a great day tour with a brilliant guide.
Read more Edinburgh guides:
Ice Cream, Harry Potter & Roadtripping through Scotland and Northwest England
I couldn’t write an account of my three months in Edinburgh without talking about the great people at the hostel and the friends I made. You can’t choose your fellow workaway volunteers but I was lucky enough to have some great ones. People I will absolutely keep in touch with and go and visit in their home countries as soon as we’re able.
One Texan left a particular impression… What started out as hanging out and eating ice cream turned into watching rereleases of Harry Potter films at the cinema which then turned into spending all of our free time watching movies in the basement, eating our way through all the best British snacks and heading off on a mini two-day road trip together.
We hired a car and drove to Hadrian’s Wall, spontaneously stopping off at St Abbs along the way so I could visit another filming location (the tiny fishing village featured in Thor: Ragnarok (2017) as New Asgard). The next day, we headed north making stops at The Kelpies near Falkirk, National Wallace Monument in Stirling and through the Trossachs to Glen Coe.
It was an amazing trip and Kyle is 100% the reason why I didn’t do nearly enough blogging as I should have (yup, I’m just gonna go ahead and blame my lack of discipline on him). But luckily I do not care because I have so many wonderful memories from those three months in Edinburgh that I wouldn’t have without him. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Déjà vu: Leaving a Closed-Down Hostel in Scotland in 2020 (…again)
Like, I know Covid and the worldwide Government restrictions are the sole reason why hospitality is shutting down. I know it’s not me. But I’ve also had to leave two hostels in Scotland and head back home to Cumbria due to shutdowns in the space of one year. If there were a third, I’d definitely be more suspicious that I was causing the crisis in Scotland.
Right now, we’re all waiting to see what the restrictions are going to do to our plans over the Christmas period in both Scotland and where I live in England. No matter the outcome, I’m planning a productive and restorative winter at home until the end of February, at least. That hopefully means lots of winter walks, blog writing, reading and movies. I got tonnes done during my five months at home over the summer and more of the same sounds perfect.
But I’m sure before long I’ll be itching to travel/live somewhere new. So I’m going to be very eager to see what the world will look like at the end of February…
And that’s my experience spending three months on a workaway exchange at CoDE Hostel – The Court in Edinburgh, Scotland! Have you done a workaway? Or have you visited Edinburgh? Let me know in the comments below!