, , , , , , , , , ,

It’s not like I’ve never seen incredible toilets.

A friend and I once sneaked into the Gents at the Madonna Inn in California to witness the (NOT in use at that exact moment) waterfall urinals. Another friend smuggled me into the Ladies in a Seattle highrise to see the city’s most vertigo-inducing view-from-the-loo. Even my pre-marriage apartment in Tiburon across the bay from San Francisco had a floor-to-ceiling glass wall looking over the Bay. (I couldn’t use that room without running the hot shower to steam up the window first. My electric bills were obscene, but not as much as a clear view would have been…)

But the holy grail of toilet experiences has always been the Victorian Toilets at the Rothesay pier on Scotland’s Isle of Bute. And today was the day I was finally going to see it! We got up early to head to Bute. Everything was going almost too perfectly. (Translation: I lied to the Hub about when we had to leave so his usual hour late actually put us into our ferry line right on time.) Of course it was pouring rain, but what did that matter when Scotland’s most incredible public bathrooms awaited?

Victorian Toilets, Rothesay Ferry Terminal, Isle of Bute

The way I heard it, the Victorian Gents were built because of God. In 1853, Scotland passed a law forbidding sale of alcohol on Sundays. But there was a loophole, allowing the steamboats that connected to the mainland to sell liquor. Thirsty Scots took to steamin‘—getting sloshed aboard the steamers—leading inevitably to a desperate need to er… de-slosh. Because Rothesay was a favorite haunt of wealthy Victorians, in 1899 the Rothesay Harbour Trust decided to spend the princely sum of £530 to establish a conveniently-located facility worthy of their valuable guests’ best efforts.

Marble urinals, mosaic floors, inlaid tiles, copper pipe—nothing was too good for these Gents. [NOTE: they only built the Gents. Apparently women never needed to “spend a penny” until some storerooms were converted into a generic Ladies toilet a century later. Sadly, that penny has grown to £.40 when the toilets are open now.]

Supposedly, with the exception of the cisterns in the toilet cubicles, every other part of the fittings and intricate mosaic-tiled floor are the originals provided by the Twyford Company of Glasgow.

But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. We arrived at Rothesay to find the toilets weren’t open to visitors of either sex. One person said there had been vandalism, another said it was due to Covid restrictions. Whatever the reason, I had to be satisfied with online photos.

But we were luckier than most of those Victorian visitors, because we were able to experience a taste of the incredible riches of Mount Stuart House, home to the Marquess of Bute since the 12th century and one of the greatest treasures of Scotland. Unless those Victorian vacationers were invited to stay in one of Mount Stuart’s 47 bedrooms, they would never have seen what we saw today.

They wouldn’t have walked the acres of incredible gardens filled with plants gathered from around the world.

Most of them never saw that pearly Scottish light streaming through colored glass of the zodiac windows and starry domes.

Or the rooms filled floor to ceiling with amazing treasures.

Or even the whimsical humor that saw animals carved centuries ago into intricate paneling echoed in modern bedposts.

At the end of the day, we left the Isle of Bute to head back to our own familiar bathroom. But I wasn’t really that disappointed in missing the Victorian Toilets, because I’d already seen the best toilet ever.

For me, the most amazing toilet was on tiny Kalijai Island in Chilika Lake, Odisha, India. The research institute we were visiting had just built the island’s very first toilet, and we were invited to the grand opening. We were offered first use of the new facilities, and asked to sign the guest book. Hands down, it was the best toilet I’ve ever seen.

How about you? Best bathroom ever?