When we first had our wood, we didn’t worry about a toilet. “Go behind a tree” we told visitors. And the campers went off into the woods “prospecting” with a trusty spade. No problem.
But the years went by and we started to have visits from little girls, and older ladies, and we realised we were in trouble.
So we dug a hole. And over it we placed a large strong box, upside down, with a round hole in the top. And over the hole we fixed a toilet seat. On a post at the side, we hung a toilet roll. Simple, really.
The rhododendron bushes were pretty thick just there, but for added privacy we erected a screen of dark cloth from the market, supported by poles.
And since that day, I have been collecting ideas from other woodland owners on the best way to do it: to be hygienic, civilised, and environmentally friendly. The best advice I had was to buy from the Centre for Alternative Technology a wonderful book called “Sanitation without Water” by Uno Winblad and Wen Kilama. Tens of millions of people, to this very day, are surviving and flourishing, day in, day out, without toilets as we know them. And although none of us woodland owners expects to be in this sort of situation, the book has some very useful tips.
“People need to choose the latrine that is best for their area and for their traditional culture.” Hence the toilet seat, which transforms the very primitive arrangement of just squatting instantly into something fairly acceptable. Though, as a ten-year-old said to me the other day, “That’s the weirdest toilet I ever saw”.
The book recommends sprinkling dry ashes over excrement to prevent flies from getting to it, and this also much reduces the odour. We collect the old ashes before lighting the new fire, keep them dry in a big pot with a water-tight lid, and sprinkle them with a soup ladle.
Apparently, the mixing of urine with faeces inhibits the rotting which will naturally render the bacteria harmless. So we now follow the advice of the book, and spread a layer of vegetable waste, or just leaves, in our toilet each time we visit.
Of course, the hole gets filled up, and when it is near the top, we cover it with a good layer of earth, and dig another hole. Moving our screen is fairly easy. Other people have told me they use a pail inside their box: one of those straight -sided containers used in wine making. Then they empty it in a hole far from the clearing where they picnic or camp. They actually have walls and a roof on their toilet; when it rains we just hold up an umbrella!
Getting closer to the natural scheme of things, another owner showed us her “compost toilet” with logs arranged in walls round the four sides of the hole, and a nice smooth round one to the front for sitting on. She assures us it is very comfortable. Her screen is simply poles, tepee style, clad in branches.
A friend who visits frequently is slowly replacing our dreadful curtains with fine traditional hurdles, made from our own hazel.
And for a lock, a simple branch on stilts across the track leading to the toilet will suffice - after all no toilet in our own culture is complete without a lock, however notional!