In October 2019, I was working as a content writer and blogger from my home in Cumbria attempting to create a location independent lifestyle and I had just broken up with my boyfriend of four years. I realised I had nothing planned until April when I was supposed to be jetting off to Kraków on a press trip. So, it seemed like the perfect time to finally apply for an opportunity at The Cowshed Bunkhouse on the Isle of Skye that I saw on the Workaway website months earlier.
My blogging pal Emma from the Daydream Believer blog, who I met in Italy last June at a conference, had also worked at the hostel and sung its praises, so that sealed the deal. Thankfully, I was accepted for March 2020.
Spoiler alert: I bloody loved every second of my one month on the Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Cut to six months later and I’m back in Cumbria but it’s an alternate universe. We’re now in a full-on lockdown due to Coronavirus. So, I’m not sure who will be remotely interested in reading about my time on the Isle of Skye since we cannot travel right now. But I started this mammoth 4,000-word, diary-style blog post before I even left for the Isle of Skye many aeons ago and wrote most of it in snippets while I was there. And since this trip will forever be remembered as my last adventure before Coronavirus turned the world to sh*t, I want to document as many details as possible for my own benefit.
Because even if no one else reads this post, there’s no way I want to forget a single second of this trip.
So, let’s take a virtual trip back to late February BC (Before Coronavirus). When you could drink from the same beer bottles, sleep in a dorm room with strangers and hug anyone who would let you…
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 three Workaways in Europe. The first, in 2017, was as a helper on a Yoga Retreat in Granada, Spain. The second was at a Buddhist Centre near where I’m from in the UK and the third is, of course, this Workaway in Scotland. 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.
One Month on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
This map features everywhere I mention in this blog post including places I visited in Glasgow, Corrour as well as the Isle of Skye. You’ll notice I’ve added a ‘Bucket List’ section to this map. Considering the unpredictable weather on my days off (I did visit in March!), my lack of appropriate shoes/waterproof clothing and with the Coronavirus pandemic rapidly growing, I didn’t visit anywhere the number of places I initially wanted explore! So, if I go back (which I hope I do), I’ve added some cafes, activities and hikes that I will definitely do next time.
Week 0: Glasgow Film Festival, Corrour & Heading North
Dates: Monday 24th – Friday 28th February
I’m Leaving on that Midday Train to Glasgow
My month in Scotland began with four nights in Glasgow as my trip serendipitously coincided with the beginning of Glasgow Film Festival 2020. I attended the film festival five years prior, and it’s definitely one of the best film festivals I’ve ever been to. This year, I was lucky enough to get a press pass for the one day I was there.
I stayed at the Glasgow Youth Hostel for the first three nights and then EasyHotel for the last night (both were great). I wanted to be within walking distance to Buchanan Bus Station on my last night as my Citylink bus departed at 6:45 for my 7-hour journey to the Isle of Skye the next day. If I had stayed really far away in the hostel, I would have been way too anxious to sleep that night.
Though I didn’t really do much in Glasgow, I’m glad I decided to walk around and take pictures to update my existing filming locations blog posts (Filth locations, Trainspotting locations and Sunshine On Leith locations, if you’re interested). I really need to visit Glasgow properly, at some point. Instead, I took a train three hours north to check out Corrour train station which featured prominently in Trainspotting (1996) and the sequel. Totally worth the day trip out of the city since I do primarily blog about filming locations. Read more about the film festival and Corrour in my other posts…
Week 1: Learning the Ropes & Exploring Skye
Dates: Saturday 29th February – Friday 6th March
This week has mainly been spent getting to grips with my role in the hostel. There are two full time, permanent staff (Jackie and Ruth) and two other workawayers (Celia and Serena) also working in the hostel. Everyone is super friendly, as expected, and they’re all way better cooks than me which also isn’t surprising.
I only work 20 hours a week, usually with two days off and my hours are spread around the other five days. The tasks include cleaning either the dorms or the eight wooden pods out the back (but never all eight!), which are both really straight-forward jobs. Or, I’ll have a reception shift cleaning the common areas and checking in guests. I’ve successfully checked in two guests thus far, yay for me. I feel like I’ve (almost) fully settled into hostel life and how everything works here. I share my dorm room with one other workawayer and the bathrooms have underfloor heating for crying out loud. It’s a beautifully-designed, modern hostel and there are definitely worse places to spend a month.
On my free afternoons this week, I’ve walked out to The Fairy Glen and Castle Ewen which is only a half-hour walk from The Cowshed Hostel. It’s a super pretty place to explore (and a Stardust (2007) filming location) and I’ve no doubt I’ll revisit it again and again during my trip. And I’ve walked to Rankins, the local village shop, many times already and devoured a veggie burger takeaway from The Hungry Gull in Staffin. So far, so good!
Days Off – The Old Man of Storr, Portree, Uig Pier & Rha Waterfalls
The weather has been an unpredictable mix of sunny spells and rain showers. And the wind, you cannot escape the wind on Skye. It’s perpetually windy here, so I was really lucky to have some beautiful days off!
Wednesday 4th March
I borrowed waterproof trousers (cheers Ruth!) and set out on an adventure to not only navigate the Isle of Skye bus timetable but climb up to The Old Man of Storr. A daily bus pass costs £9.50 on the Isle of Skye, which I think is a little expensive. But maybe that’s because all single bus journeys were £1 when I lived in Manchester so I’ve been very spoiled. And you can pay contactless as well as cash now, so that’s definitely a win. I rode the scenic route north from Uig to Storr and walked the 40/50 minute climb to the top.
The Storr might be a fairly steep hill, but it has a well-trodden path with a car park so it’s a really easy/straightforward hike, especially if you’re staying in Portree. I really enjoyed this walk, it was the ideal introductory hike and the views across the sea and Loch Leathan are just phenomenal.
Then, I took the bus to Portree. I wanted to see Skye’s main town and pick up some food from Co-op (am I bragging too much? This is just sounding too glamourous, right?) and buy some postcards to send home from Ten 10 Creations.
Thursday 5th March
On my second day off, I kept things low key. I walked down to Uig Pier (and the Isle of Skye Brewing Co. Brewery) and Rha Waterfalls. I’ve given myself a little goal of tasting every beer Isle of Skye Brewing Co. produces and I’m four down. I think there are around 10 or 11 in total, so I’m doing well! I anticipate that I’ll end up utterly obliterating this goal.
Week 2: Staying Indoors & Drinking too much
Dates: Saturday 7th – Friday 13th March
I had really short cleaning shifts over the weekend so I was super productive elsewhere. I managed to finish both my Corrour and Glasgow Film Festival blog posts, as well as edit all my photos from my days off last week. Like a good little blogger! I’m hoping to finish Superstar Blogging’s Travel Writing course while I’m here, too.
Sadly, Serena left us on Tuesday after two whole months volunteering at the hostel. It seems bonkers I’ve only known her just over a week! She’ll definitely be missed. But the night of her leaving dinner was one of the funniest, best nights I’ve had in ages. It made me realise exactly what I’ve been missing by living at home for so long. There are tonnes of positives to living at home, obviously. I don’t have any living costs, I’m able to see my friends and family and I’ve spent lots of time with my gorgeous wee nephew during his first year on Planet Earth. But I have gotten a little too comfortable. I completed therapy two years ago, left my boyfriend six months ago and I’ve never been happier than I am right now. There really isn’t anything but excuses holding me back.
On Serena’s last night, we drank lots and laughed lots in a group of lovely people from five different countries (six if you count Scotland separately, and the Scot in question probably would) and I just want more of that.
I also started doing reception shifts this week. This meant check-ins, closing up and, more importantly, learning how to light the wood fire. I hope by the end of the month I’ll be a less sh*t pyromaniac because I love lighting the fire but the fire doesn’t love me!
Inside The Cowshed Bunkhouse Hostel…
Days Off – Scorrybreac Circuit in Portree, The Fairy Glen (again) & Rainy Days
I unexpectedly had three days off this week! Unexpectedly only because I forgot to check the rota Sunday night, but I like surprises. Unfortunately, the weather was also erratic and really, really windy. It can be quite dangerous to do some of the hikes (like walking up Uig Cliff or the Quiraing) if the winds are that strong. So my days off were relaxed.
Monday 9th March
Though it was drizzling, I hopped on a bus down to Portree to walk along the Scorrybreac Circuit and nipped to Co-op (of course).
Scorrybreac Circuit is a 3km loop walk that offers views out over the bay and across to the Isle of Raasay. It’s just a nice, not very difficult, scenic walk. I didn’t take many photographs because I try not to take my camera out in the rain, but I imagine it’s a nice sunset/sunrise walk if you’re staying in Portree.
Wednesday 11th & Thursday 12th March
I spent Wednesday mainly editing photos and working on my travel writing course, but I did manage to get out for a walk to The Fairy Glen again on Thursday afternoon. We had a bit of snow/hail in the morning so the sandy-coloured earth had a dusting of the white stuff like a Victoria sponge cake. The waterfall near The Fairy Glen looked bloody lovely, especially when the sun eventually pierced through the clouds.
Have I mentioned just how many waterfalls there are on Skye?! They’re literally everywhere! If you were anywhere else in the world, waterfalls are at least a walk or a car ride away. You don’t just stumble upon them, you plan to visit a waterfall. Skye has spoiled me for all the waterfalls I’ll see in the future. But that’s how I feel about being on the Isle of Skye in general. Like I’m re-living my 18th birthday over and over again and I’m being completely and utterly spoiled every single day.
Week 3: And then there was (briefly) one & COVID-19 Ramps up
Dates: Saturday 14th – Friday 20th March
With my lovely dorm mate Celia’s departure on Sunday, I was momentarily the only workaway volunteer left at The Cowshed. Over the last couple of weeks, coronavirus has developed from being an afterthought to the only thing everyone is thinking or talking about. Jackie, the manager of the hostel, was on it in terms of making the hostel sanitary and safe for the staff and guests. Which is saying something because the hostel was already incredibly immaculate. So as it’s becoming more difficult and dangerous for people to travel, especially overseas, we had no more new workawayers.
But Robbie reappeared the same day Celia left. He’d stayed at the hostel just a few nights earlier and clearly couldn’t bear to be away from us, I’m guessing. So I had a new volunteer (and drinking) buddy!
Also, on that very same Sunday, I received the amazing news that I could stay at The Cowshed Bunkhouse as Hostel Assistant for that summer season*. I was completely over the moon. Not only did this news mean that I must be doing a good job volunteering, but I’d have a heck of a lot more time to explore the Isle of Skye properly. I was really starting to love working at the hostel and I felt like I was good, or could be good, at it.
*Of course, that was just over three weeks ago now. On the date I’m publishing this post, we know a lot has changed.
Days Off – Uig Cliff, My Only Uig ‘Pub Crawl’ & The Fairy Glen (again, again)
Because I thought I’d have months and months on Skye to see and do everything I wanted to on the island over the summer, I didn’t feel compelled to venture further afield. So, I just explored more places around Uig…
Monday 16th March
What’s a bonus Monday day off without a shopping trip to Portree?! When Robbie merely suggested he’d make dinner for everyone this week I immediately jumped on offering to go to the big Co-op in Portree to get all the ingredients and ‘help’ him cook. The team often ate altogether but I had yet to make anything for the team – I know, I know, I still feel bad. I can blame being a fussy eater, a veggie, living alone for years or having an ex that was a great cook all I want. But I should still be able to cook better.
Anyway, that’s what I did with my first day off of the week. The meal was bloody lovely and the weather was f*cking horrendous.
Thursday 19th March
But by Thursday, the sun was shining and the wind had died down so much that you could actually hear the birds.
So making the most of it, I decided to finally walk up the cliff in Uig. I was very confused about the path’s starting point (if you are also climbing up the cliff – the path starts behind the Dead End sign across the road from The Croft B&B and Chalet Pods). But my persistence paid off and I was rewarded with gorgeous sunny skies, epic views of the coastline and black sand beaches.
Robbie also had a day off so we decided to do a mini Uig pub crawl and check out The Ferry Inn and Uig Hotel. If we’d also have hit the up the Bakur Bar we’d have ticked off basically every pub in Uig in one night. This ‘pub crawl’ turned out to be very aptly timed because all the pubs in the UK shut the next night. I actually had my first ever Scotch whisky in Uig Hotel and I’m writing it down here so I remember what is was – Balvenie 12 year. So smooth, I can almost taste it now. Thank goodness I had Robbie to tell me what to get otherwise I’d have accidentally ordered something super smokey and might have written off Scotch for the rest of my life. What a travesty that would have been!
Friday 20th March
On Friday, I kept it pretty chill and just went back to The Fairy Glen. In hindsight, I should have gone to the Quiraing but that’s easy to say now. And those bloody winds had picked up and my shoes were highly unsuitable, anyway. So I may not have been able to walk the whole Quiraing loop.
Week 4: Moving to a Pod, Lockdown & Premature Departure
Dates: Saturday 21st – Tuesday 24th March
Like witnessing a robbery at a corner shop or watching a car crash, my last days on Skye all happened so fast. The coronavirus pandemic seemed to move slowly at first but it soon picked up momentum. I had originally planned to leave on Saturday 28th, exactly one month after I arrived. But with Boris Johnson announcing a lockdown in his speech on Monday 23rd, I had to travel back down to Cumbria ASAP.
Inevitably and sadly, on Saturday I found out there wouldn’t be able to work at The Cowshed over the summer. I’d already guessed as much, and I’d literally had the job offer for less than one week, but I was still a bit gutted to hear it said out loud. Though I can’t feel too down about it when so many other people are now struggling with so much worse. I’d be returning home to a completely different reality than the one I’d left in February.
I also tasted Tennents, which boasts the title of Scotland’s best-selling pint, on that Saturday night for the first time ever. Make of that what you will.
On Sunday, Robbie and I were (technically) left in charge of the hostel while Jackie and Ruth drove down to Glasgow to pick up Ruth’s new car. Definitely an exercise in the blind leading the blind but we somehow survived our last proper working day.
Last Free Days
By Sunday, the main hostel building was closed and only the eight pods at the back of the bunkhouse remained open. So, me and Robbie each got our own pod for the last nights of our stay! It’s bittersweet talking about the good moments in those last few days because obviously, I didn’t want the hostel to close down. I didn’t want to leave the Isle of Skye and my new friends and I didn’t want any of it to be happening. But it did, and it was lovely staying in of the cosy wooden pods with the envious sea views that I’d been cleaning for the past three weeks.
The blustery weather was on form for my last days on Skye, but at least it reflected the solemn vibe. Robbie and I went on one last trip to Rankins, our local shop on Monday, so I could pick up supplies for my travels home the next day. Then finally on Tuesday, I left on a Citylink bus from Uig Pier to Glasgow before hopping on an eerily quiet train to Oxenholme Lake District.
But let’s not leave Skye on a sad note, let’s end on a beer update! The big question: did I manage to drink as much local beer as I thought I would?! I’m pleased to say I drunk so much beer. I’m pretty sure I drank more beer in those last couple of weeks on Skye than I did in three years at University. I got nothing else done. I didn’t finish my travel writing course or get up to date with editing my photographs or complete my latest Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Feast for Crows. Am I allowed to shift the blame onto Robbie for being a bad influence…?
But I did taste all of the Isle of Skye Brewing Co. beer which was one of my main goals on Skye! My favourites are the Blonde, Cullin Beast and Craft Lager but they were all great beers. Robbie’s favourite was Yer Ben, in case you were wondering, but I think he just liked the name. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Red, despite trying two sips of it at different times. Hence why it’s not featured in my round-up photo below.
Life in the Time of Coronavirus
I’ve been back home in Cumbria for exactly two weeks and one day. I’m grateful that the metaphorical dark cloud that followed me for a few days after leaving the Isle of Skye has left and I’ve adapted to our new normal. I’m trying to find the positives as much as possible, and it’s (largely) working. My family and friends are all healthy and surviving. My sister and nephew are video-calling me every day and I’m keeping in touch with friends.
I don’t have any paid content writing work at the moment, so while I’m not earning (or spending!) I’m throwing all my time and energy into this blog. I’m also turning 27 on Friday and I’m so fortunate I still get to spend it with my parents, and not isolated alone.
The Isle of Skye will always be there, and I hope to continue my adventures just as soon as possible. As soon as it’s safe. Until then, I can wake up at 6:00 and head out on my Government-approved walk to witness the sunrise above a more familiar coastline where the blustery wind doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did before. And I can listen to She Burns by Foy Vance, shut my eyes and just for a second, I’m back to that amazing month I spent on the Isle of Skye. All I’d be missing is a can of Tennants.
That’s my experience spending one month doing a Workaway exchange at The Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse on the Isle of Skye in Scotland! Have you had a Workaway experience? Or have you visited the Isle of Skye in Scotland? Let me know in the comments below!