|For decades bothy users
and backpackers have been encouraged to ‘do their business’ in as
considerate and an environmentally-friendly a way as possible out in the wilds.
This means taking a trowel to a quiet spot well away from streams and paths and
digging a little hole in the ground for excrement and the accompanying toilet
roll (better still use moss). Most bothies are equipped with a spade for this
Unfortunately some people don’t bother to think of others when launching the
old battleship out of doors. If it’s cold, wet and windy, you’ll often find
people taking the easy option of squatting down against the back wall of the
bothy, rather than venturing a little further afield. You only have to visit
Corrour at the south end of the Lairig Ghru to see the damage this does - little
piles of human waste and toilet paper scattered over the hillside. Aswell as
being unsightly, this presents a very real health problem to walkers and animals
and also upsets landowners. Human waste disposed of insensitively can lead to
other people coming into contact with it, infection of water courses, visual
pollution and odour and animals picking it up and further dispersing it.
In a bid to combat the problem, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has taken
the unusual step of publishing a leaflet entitled: ‘Where to go in the great
outdoors’. Broaching what is often regarded as a taboo subject was broadly
welcomed by outdoor enthusiasts and organisations, despite some negative press
from the tabloids.
This free publication gives advice on best practice for crapping in the
countryside and also highlights some of the potential health risks presented by
carelessly placed human waste. The potentially fatal E. Coli 0157 bug is just
one pathogen which can find its way from the human gut into watercourses, and
then into other people.
For a number of years the Mountain Bothies Association has been working on ways
to address the issue as bothies come under increasing pressure from users. More
and more people staying overnight means more and more people likely to go to the
toilet in the immediate environs.
Members experimented with various ideas initially. As an example Allt
Sheicheachan has a makeshift toilet set into moorland a hundred yards or so from
the bothy. It’s no more than a wooden box with a round hole cut in the top and
a big pit below. It’s far from perfect and prompted a more cohesive approach
to the problem.
A number of bothies now have their own toilets, plumbed into septic tanks and
run-off systems. One is Gelder Shiel on the Balmoral Estate. Last year I
attended a work party where the final phase of the project was undertaken.
The squat toilet had been created several months earlier. The septic tank was
dug into the ground below the bothy using a JCB. Pipework was laid over a series
of workparties, one section linking the tank to the toilet and another to the
underground network of pipes providing the soak away for liquid.
The toilet itself is very much in the style of a French public loo - a concrete
base with a hole in it. This leads to an access chamber, then down to the tank.
The base was built during the winter of 1998 against the rear wall of the bothy.
The toilet hut arrived at Gelder Shiel in October 1999, in flatpack form. Area
organiser Alastair Lings had prefabricated some sections and measured and cut
timber for the rest and the package was transported from Galashiels to Gelder
Shiel in a Luton van which negotiated the track to the bothy in the dead of
night without incident.
We were on site shortly before
midnight on Friday and a cold night ensued before the team was up bright and
early the next morning to make a start. The first task was to assemble the walls
and roof of the hut and then creosote the tops, bottoms and edges
before they were moved into place. As this continued, brackets were set into the
concrete base to secure the walls. By lunchtime the first wall was in situ and,
after soup and rolls, the side wall was all set to go in when disaster struck.
One of the base blocks set into the concrete cracked where one of the brackets
had gone in and a hasty re-assessment had to take place before construction
could continue. However, the second wall was soon in place and internal and
external timber treatment began in earnest. In the afternoon the estate factor
pulled up in his Land Rover Discovery to cast an eye over the work in hand and
to test the toilet drainage (not personally, though). With the squat hole
exposed to the elements, pine needles, leaves and twigs had caused a slight
blockage in the U-bend but this was quickly flushed out with a few buckets of
water and he seemed impressed by the work in hand. The estate recently installed
a spring-fed water tap at the bothy (on the north gable) but this has since been
relocated to the rear of the building.
The next morning, battle commenced with the mortar in the solid granite rear
wall of the bothy to enable a support beam to be erected. Meanwhile the wooden
roof was felted and a door. Efforts were also made to drain and rebuild the
muddy path round the south end of the bothy to provide an access route to the
By mid-afternoon the shed walls were complete, a perspex window had been fitted
and it was time to hoist the roof on. This was manoeuvred into place and secured
and, as darkness fell, the job was largely complete. With the final touches
added - a small shelf for toilet rolls and a couple of coat pegs - the Balmoral
Throne Room was ready for business and fit for royalty!
All users have to to do ensure the system operates efficiently is to flush at
least two buckets of water down the squat hole once they have finished
conversing with nature.
While some argue developments of this type go against the basic ‘getting away
from it all’ ideals of outdoor adventure, most realise growing problems
surrounding the issue of human sanitation in the outdoors has to be addressed at
some and commend the MBA for their decisive action.
So far only a handful of bothies have toilet facilities but more - particularly
the popular ones - are being considered for the same treatment in the future.
top tips for going in the great outdoors:
1. Defecate at least 50 metres from paths
and 200 metres from huts and bothies.
2. Defecate at least 30m from streams.
3. Dig a hole at least 15cms (6ins) deep, do
your business then fill the hole back in.
4. It you can’t dig a hole, spread your
waste out thinly (not a pleasant task, we know) and cover with soil or leaf
mould to help it decompose faster.
5. Urine is less harmful than ‘numbers
twos’ but it smells unpleasant. Pee out in the open and avoid caves and the
back of bothies.
6. Squashing excrement with a boulder is far
from ideal - this slows the decomposition.
7. In snow, dig down into the soil below.
Burying excrement in snow will only serve as a temporary measure until the thaw.
8. Never miss an opportunity to use a proper
9. Consider using biodegradable toilet
paper, or better still moss (it's quite pleasant, actually).
10. And finally one for the ladies. Use a
secure container, such as a self-seal bag, to carry out tampons and sanitary
towels as they take a long time to decompose, even when buried.
For a copy of the leaflet ‘Where to go in the
great outdoors’, send an A5-size SAE to: The MCofS, 4A St Catherine’s Road,
Perth, PH1 5SE.