Great Toilets of the World Part 3: Victorian Toilets, Rothesay Pier

Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Islands, Lavatorial Prose | 4 Comments
The Victorian Toilets on Rothesay Pier, Isle of Bute
I spent last week ‘doon the watter’ on the Isle of Bute, celebrating my granny’s 90th birthday with a host of relations, some drawn from the other side of the world for the occasion. I go to Bute at least twice a year, but my visits are usually of the smash and grab variety; utilitarian trips in which I visit all the necessary family members in the minimum possible time before high-tailing it back up the road to Inverness. This longer visit allowed me to get out and about a bit more than usual and provided some material for my occasional series ‘Great Toilets of the World’. Previous installments have been inspired by locations as diverse as the Cairngorms and Utah‘s Canyonlands.
They don’t make toilet seats like that anymore
Despite having lived on Bute continuously for 17 years and part time for many further years, my first glimpse of the palatial pissoirs of the Victorian Toilets was on the television about 10 or 15 years ago. Captivated by the mosaic floors and shimmering marble, I resolved to pay them a visit. That it took so long to get around to inspecting them can be attributed to two causes. Firstly, I am not, as a rule, particularly interested in urinals. A sightseeing trip to a public toilet is, therefore, very easy to put off for another day. Secondly, they are located on Rothesay Pier. I prefer the shorter crossing from Colintraive to Rhubodach as it is cheaper than the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay route and it avoids the fiendish traffic queues of Glasgow city centre. Accordingly I have not often passed by their door.
The Rothesay ferries and Inverkip power station photographed from Montford
The Victorian Toilets may be sumptuous, but the town of Rothesay is looking a bit rough around the edges. It was a lively and popular holiday destination until the advent of cheap package tours but it has been on the slide ever since. The place had been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years but now looks to be degenerating into the depressed and shabby state that I remember from my youth in Thatcher’s Britain. Nothing stays the same, not even the countryside. On revisiting my boyhood haunts by the Glenmore Burn I was surprised by its dynamism, pools that I remembered had disappeared, others had sprung up to take their place. I ran over the hills of the north end one morning – Windy Hill and Kilbride Hill – and found them grassier than of old, the heather having retreated ,through climate change or overstocking with cattle and sheep or a combination of the two. As a boy I remember an old timer commenting that in the 1950s the whole hillsides were purple with heather. I wonder if by the 2050s there might be none left at all?
Outcrop of columnar sandstone south of Kilchattan Bay – Old Red Sandstone that has assumed a hexagonal  structure on cooling after it was heated by an adjacent igneous intrusion – perhaps unique in the UK
My main impression of Bute is of how small the island looks through adult eyes. Growing up on an island that is 15 miles by 3 has a profound effect on one’s sense of scale. Ten miles seems a long way, even in a car. As a teenager I couldn’t wait to leave the place and broaden my horizons. Much as I enjoy visiting the place, after a week’s holiday a very similar sensation begins to develop and it is always a relief when my wheels touch the tarmac of the mainland.


  1. Zed
    May 16, 2011

    Yes. The heather will go. You can see evidence in many parts of marginal Britain of abandoned fields – fields which had to be cultivated when poverty failed to stop population expansion. If these times become like those times, the heather is doomed.

    The Rothesay bogs are great. Any serious series on toilets should include the toilets in the garden below the casino in Monte Carlo. Plenty good enough to sleep in 1972. I hope they are still there and open to the great unwashed.

  2. blueskyscotland
    May 21, 2011

    Hi Gavin.
    That will please Alex,the lack of heather on Windy hill.He,s still to limp across that one.
    Yup. Its a shame to see Bute so under rated by the modern tourist.Its such a great island for a holiday and its got fantastic walks everywhere and safe cycling for children.

  3. Tim
    February 24, 2014

    The Victorian carseys are fantastistic and absolutly classic specimens of Victorian plumbing. Superb!

    However your description of the sandstone as Columniar sandstone is totally wrong. Sandstone is sedimentary and as such what structure will be in sandstone will either be bedding plane or dewatering structures. Column structures only form in Basaltic igneous rock and are the result of rapid cooling as the hot lava errupts on the sea bed. Sandstone grain classifaction is used to classify igneous intrusion and extrussion but that is the ONLY connection. If sandstone is ever subject to Thermal alteration by volcanic intrusion it would turn to glass (Obsidian)

    • Gavin
      February 24, 2014


      My columnar sandstone chat is lifted from a local geology guide. The authors note that the feature is unique and suggest that sandstone adjacent to an igneous intrusion was heated and then cooled into a columnar structure.

      The guide is rather old so perhaps this thinking has been superseded. I can certainly back up the author of the guide in that the rock looks very much like a columnar sandstone.

      Can you back up your assertions with any literature specific to this feature?


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