Frankly – toilets
We all pee and poo but we rarely talk about it, beyond the slight anxiety about where the next publicly available toilets might be. Different countries and cultures have different rules so let’s talk about Scotland in this regard frankly.
There are public toilets funded by the local authorities across Scotland. These vary in quality from ‘quite swish’ to rather basic. Some charge, typically 20p (keep a few about you), but most seem to be free. We do have a problem with vandalism of toilets and in some places that’s the biggest expense of keeping toilets open.
Councils have had serious funding problems so have been withdrawing from non statutory provision – and public toilets is something they are not obliged to do. So where a village used to have two sets of toilets, often one has been closed. In some cases local communities themselves have taken over the running of the toilets. In some places, a deal has been done with a local pub, hotel, or other business to allow access to their facilities as part of a Comfort Partnership.
Most larger supermarkets (and some smaller) and some petrol stations have toilets for the use of customers but particularly the supermarkets won’t known if you are a customer or not.
Of course cafes, restaurants, pubs, campsites, etc will have toilets. And visitor centres, museums, etc. These will be for customers and some places get pretty cross with people just coming into to use the toilets. I don’t blame them: these are a cost and they have to put their customers first. If you use facilities and are not a customer, then leave a hefty tip or donation: I’d suggest 50p. I’ve come across a few very civil places in remoter areas that are happy for people to use their facilities but have a very obvious charity box outside. Be generous.
A map covering most toilets is published here https://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk If you find a error or omission, do update or add: things do change.
What can go down the toilet?
Please: pee, poo and toilet paper only.
But even where mains sewerage exists, wipes, cotton buds, nappies, nappy liners, condoms, sanitary towels, tampons, contact lenses, etc., etc., block the filters. In some places where the outflows go directly to sea, that means this stuff gets dumped in the sea.
We really could do with dumping less of our crap into the sea. Bins will be provided for non toilet rubbish: use them please.
Obviously, please try to avoid but if you head into the hills or remote areas for any length of time, then you may need to Go Outdoors. Think about what the impact of what you are doing has in others. One person urinating or pooing at a spot might not be very significant – but what if it were 30 people?
The basic principle of #LeaveNoTrace applies.
For peeing, step away well away from watercourses and at least 50m (100 paces) from paths and find a discreet place to go. Discreet doesn’t mean in a corner of a derelict or abandoned building: there are consistent Ugh! regarding people who e.g. use the Lighthouse buildings at Neist point and consider that walled enclosure might be a sheep fank or might be part of a scheduled ancient monument.
Please treat any paper or wipes you use as litter to be removed. Paper does degrade but it’s remarkably slow and a trail of toilet paper isn’t an enhancement to anyone’s experience. In spring birds have been seen picking up toilet paper for their nests. Eeugh!
If you’ve stepped well away from a route, then you are reasonably discreet but most of us will try to put vegetation, rocks or a wall between us and other people or inhabited buildings. This isn’t always possible. A cross country ski group I was a member of used ‘Ladies Forward’ or ‘Gentlemen Forward’ to flag that someone needed to go and eyes should be averted (we were often in pretty open country). There is an offence of ‘offensive public urination’, intended I think for late night revellers in city centres: I’d be shocked to have it used in a truly wild area.
Poo takes more planning
First, again step well away from paths and streams and don’t be tempted into caves and other such nooks : it’s easy for waste to get concentrated.
There are two strategies. In areas where there is a good layer of soil, then burying the human waste and again removing any paper or wipes used is fairly convenient. But you have to remember to pack a trowel to dig a 6 inch (15cm) deep hole. Holes should be dug away from paths, watercourses, buildings, etc. The idea is to disperse any residual problem so you don’t want a hole where anyone else has already dug.
Or, just as you’d use a dog poo bag to remove their poo, you can pick up and remove your human poo too. This is the only way if you are in areas where burying waste isn’t possible – the high hills for example. It might also be the best method in really busy areas. Or if you’ve forgotten your trowel. The poo kit might consist of
- a couple of sheets of kitchen paper – to poo on.
- a dog poo bag to contain the kitchen paper, toilet paper and wipes
- toilet paper
- dog poo bag
- larger more robust bag or box to contain it all (or both).
Advice from Mountaineering Council of Scotland here (PDF).
Did the blessed Douglas Adams know where his trowel was?