Public toilets are a matter of convenience

Public loos are essential to our successful tourist industry, so we must provide them in sufficient numbers to do the job, says Janet Bulloch

Tourist guides have become dependent on goodwill of visitor attractions to provide a toilet break. Picture: Getty
Tourist guides have become dependent on goodwill of visitor attractions to provide a toilet break. Picture: Getty

WHAT is the first question our coach party tourists ask? “Where can I buy a good whisky?” No. It’s “Where are the toilets?”

As tourist guides, we all carry mental maps of where the good loos are, the comfort stop being an essential part of planning any coach tour itinerary. The rule of thumb is to offer one every two hours.

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That’s about the duration of the average panoramic city tour of Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen. But only in Aberdeen are public lavatories available en route: at the south end of the Esplanade above Footdee. It’s the perfect location, because there’s a coach parking bay adjacent and plenty of cubicles/stalls inside. Meanwhile those who have time over can wander around the picturesque former fishing village.

By contrast, in Glasgow there are no public conveniences in the city centre suitable for a coach party; the last ones, in St Vincent Place off George Square, were closed some years ago. So we rely on the goodwill of visitor attractions, such as the People’s Palace at Glasgow Green or the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art at Townhead. But these are not open every day of the week nor do they open early in the morning.

So if your tour starts at Edinburgh airport with a party of visitors off an overnight flight from the USA, say, and you are heading west towards Loch Lomond and the Highlands, you may well have to skip the Glasgow panoramic tour. Then the visitors’ impression of Glasgow is formed by what is visible from the M8 as you race down to Luss, where the toilets are open early and late.

In Edinburgh, we may be about to lose the one remaining city centre comfort stop en route, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Coaches doing a panoramic tour of the capital have been tolerated there for a toilet-cum-photo stop for years. But it seems that for understandable reasons, the Palace authorities now wish to confine access to parties visiting the Palace.

They might consider the example of the Skye Museum of Island Life at Kilmuir. When Highland Council determined a few years ago that both sets of toilets in the north of Skye, at Staffin and Kilmuir, should close, tourist guides were aghast, realising there would be no coach-accessible conveniences between Portree and Dunvegan. Because of the two hour rule, this effectively ruled out the lovely panoramic tour of the Trotternish peninsula with photo stops at Kilt Rock and Flora MacDonald’s burial place.

But the welcoming folks at the Museum of Island Life took over the management of the public loos adjacent to the parking area that also serves their museum. All they ask is that coaches stopping there just for a comfort and photo stop pay a nominal sum towards the running costs. Surely Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh City Council could work out something similar in the capital?

Notwithstanding their blind spot about north Skye, Highland Council generally do a great job of maintaining the wayside toilets, as do most other councils.

Around the Central Highlands, in particular the popular route going Glasgow–Fort William–Inverness–Perth, the system works pretty well, with excellent facilities at Fort Augustus and Pitlochry, for example.

Where there’s a charge, the presence of an attendant is helpful – as in these two places – because overseas visitors often don’t have small change. In the remoter areas, the villages generally have toilets where a coach can stop, with the bonus of a good view and/or village shop where guests can grab a coffee or newspaper – I particularly like Shieldaig near Loch Torridon and Golspie, where the loos have an attractive contemporary design. More of the same, please.

One issue that invariably arises in the smaller places, given the gender balance of the average coach party, is that the queue outside the ladies is longer by far. But we alleviate the congestion by colonising the gents as soon as the men have finished, posting a volunteer sentry outside, to the amusement of all concerned.

One gents everyone should visit is the convenience on Rothesay pier, with its splendid Victorian fittings, a tourist attraction in its own right and open for viewing at stated times.

Tourism is acknowledged to be a key sector in the Scottish economy, and one whose potential needs to be realised fully against the day the oil runs out. This means getting the infrastructure right. And the right infrastructure includes centrally-located public toilets, with coach parking adjacent.

This should be embedded in every town or city centre redevelopment project. We do so much so well in Scottish tourism. Don’t let’s allow something as basic as gaps in toilet provision for coach parties to constrain its growth.

• Janet Bulloch is vice-chair, Scottish Tourist Guides Association