Out of order: some thoughts on sanitary facilities at campsites

2014-06-20 2014 June Lourdes cycle ride 045
The unbeatable sanitary facilities of Les Trois Vallées site near Lourdes

‘The sanitary facilities will be closed between 11.00 and 12.00 for cleaning’ is a familiar sign to anyone who has used a club campsite in the UK and this can be very irritating.   Of course, I would be the first to complain if the toilets and showers were not in a spit-spot condition and [as a former Youth Hostel warden] I do understand how much easier the task of sanitising the conveniences is if there are no campers wandering in and out while you mop the floor.  But, I am on holiday and don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn; after a leisurely breakfast it can often be 11.00 when I am hoping to use the ladies one last time before setting off on a walk and confronting one of these signs on the door is maddening.

All I am asking for is a little consideration for the paying guests, who, let us remember, keep the campsite in business.  Good club sites will leave the disabled toilet open while they clean the main facilities and this is a welcome compromise; however, not all camp sites are run with this amount of thoughtfulness and I have stayed on at least one club site that has two sanitary blocks but will still close both for the full hour.

Away from club sites, there are many different approaches to how to get the toilets and showers clean after they have been used and abused by hot and sweaty campers.  One solution, of course, is to not bother carrying out any cleaning at all, but these are few and far between and are not camp sites we stay at for more than one night, or return to for another holiday.

A lovely site on the Gargano peninsular in Italy used an industrial size hose pipe to vigorously sluice out the showers and toilets once a day.  They did not close the facilities during this process, but you only used them at your own risk.

In Mediterranean countries, you also often see signs telling you that the facilities are closed between 04.00 and 05.00 and on one level this seems a good plan; the toilets can be cleaned while the campers are all fast asleep in their tents and campervans.  However, I always feel concerned for the cleaners who have to work such unsociable hours.  Presumably this works well in warmer climes as it enables the cleaning to take place before it gets too hot to care about polishing chrome and scrubbing tiles.

Another popular way for campsite owners to ensure their facilities are immaculate is to work around the campers, cleaning the sanitary blocks while they are in use.  This can work satisfactorily, so long as either the site is not busy or they opt to get the mop and bucket out during a quieter period.  One Polish campsite [charmingly called Camping 51] stands out for the impeccable state of its toilet and shower blocks, as the elderly female owner could be found cloth in one hand, bleach in the other at every hour of every day, dedicating her life to ensuring a germ-free environment.  Her constant presence somewhere in the sanitary blocks caused Mr BOTRA to take up joyful whistling during his ablutions, to be sure that she knew he was there and avoid any possible embarrassing encounters.

One of the many reasons touring campsites in our campervan is fun is that every site is unique and has its own way of doing things but we do sometimes have to ask why.  One beautiful campsite on Luneburg Heath in Northern Germany had spotless facilities that were open at all times, with one important exception; they closed and locked the dish-washing area at 20.00 each evening, not re-opening it until 07.00 the next day.   As we don’t eat our evening meal until around 19.30 or later on holiday [and we are not alone in this] the choice was to either stack up the dishes for the next morning or rush to start the washing up as soon as the last forkful had been eaten.  Not surprisingly, this often resulted in a very busy washing up area at 19.55 every evening, as everyone tried to beat the imposed curfew.

Restricted access with key pads and locks for the sanitary facilities is becoming more and more common at campsites in England.  These provide endless opportunities for irritating the camper; with so many pin numbers to remember, keeping in mind the random selection of numbers and letters for the toilets has no chance of sticking in my mind and forgetting to take the key on a trip to the shower is an entertaining game we play..

Limiting access to the toilets can be understandable on a site with a footpath running through it or one that is next to an attraction or park.  On other sites there is no excuse for keeping the toilets and showers under lock and key, I have stayed at sites with locked facilities where there is not even have a house within 500 metres and no passing pedestrians who might decide to spend a penny.

Some camp sites provide very specialist facilities and my favourite sign is one generally found on coastal and riverside sites in southern Europe, where they have a sink marked for fish washing only.   Although I’ve never witnessed any actual fish washing, I am grateful to a site for providing these specific facilities; no one wants to wash their laundry in a sink where gutting and boning of the days catch has recently occurred.

Finally, I am sure there are two camps regarding the provision of piped music in campsite facilities and I am generally in the pro-camp.  However, there are times when the melodies seem incongruous; I’m thinking now of a favourite camp site in Cortina in the peace of quiet of the Italian Dolomites which inexplicably played  pan pipe music from South America on a continuous loop.