A FORMER mcirobiologist is raising a stink about the state of some of Sutherland’s public toilets.
Scilla Aitchison, Littleferry, Golspie, is shocked at the unsanitary and badly maintained condition of several of the county’s 24 loos.
And she is deeply concerned at the bad impression it leaves on the increasing number of visitors passing though on the NC500 tourism trail.
She singles out for particular condemnation the toilets at Helmsdale and Lairg where she found a door hanging by one hinge, broken toilet seats, and general mess.
But Mrs Aitchison, who is married to former local councillor Graham Phillips, has said it is not all gloom and doom on the public convenience front.
She awards a gold star to the public toilets in two tiny far-flung communities – stand up Scourie and Rhiconich, which she describes as “spotless”.
Sutherland’s loos come under the umbrella of Highland Council and, until August, were cleaned by an outside contractor. But cleaning has since been brought back in-house.
Mrs Aitchison, a qualified microbiologist, previously worked with a local authority and also at the House of Commons. She was an elected councillor for 16 years in Kent before moving north.
She and her husband now run consultancy firm Phillips Aitchison and she also works as a genealogist.
Her interest in family history has led her to travel throughout Sutherland to visit war memorials and consult archives and as a result she has had occasion to use most of the county’s public loos.
She visited the ladies at Lairg, located on the Main Street, in the spring to find one of the two cubicles was unusable because the door of the cubicle nearest the front door was hanging precariously by one hinge.
She said: “It was actually dangerous so I reported it. I assumed it was a maintenance problem – that perhaps the cleaner had not passed the problem on.”
Ms Aitchison next visited the Lairg loo while passing through the village on the day of Lairg Crofters Show on Saturday, August 26.
And she was taken aback to discover the door in question had bizarrely been taken down and placed on its side along the wall of the first cubicle, protruding into the outer area.
Ms Aitchison said: “It was sticking so far out, you had to edge past the end of the door to access the second cubicle. There was no toilet paper – although there were plenty of bits lying about the floor and it wasn’t clean in the corners.
“The state of the Lairg loos matter a lot because the village is such a crossroads in Sutherland. A lot of people travel through and need to use the loos. To have it in a mess like that is just not on.”
Also well used are the public conveniences at Helmsdale, which is on the route of the popular John O’ Groats to Land’s End challenge and of NC500.
Ms Aitchison was last there on October 14 when she found the toilets so bad that she felt they represented a health hazard.
She said: “The door catch on one of the cubicles didn’t work and the wooden section seat on top of the metal toilet was broken. There was also some nasty stuff on the wall. It was a health hazard.”
Mrs Aitchison has previously complained about the public toilets in Lochinver to former councillor George Farlow and MSP John Finnie. More recently she has complained to north, west and central Sutherland councillor Kirsteen Currie.
She is also critical of the widely praised loo in Golspie, where she says there is a “smell”, and of the one in Lochinver where she found a window ledge covered in dust. She ran her finger through it and on a return visit three months later the ledge had still not been wiped and she could still see the mark she had made.
On one of her visits to the Lochinver loo, she fell into conversation with a woman who had gone into the buillding to change her young child but felt it was too dirty to do so.
She said: “I have never forgotten that women. It could have been me. This is a public health hazard and is quite simply not good enough.”
A Highland Council spokesman said: “The cleaning of the toilets was brought back ‘in house’ from contractors in August of this year.
“They are now operated and cleaned by a mix of staff transferred from the contractor to Highland Council, and new employees.
“Having taken over 90 public conveniences in Highland back in house, there have inevitably been some bedding in issues. This process is progressing well.”