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Path to Perfect Paving

I can always remember that lovely sound of the car crunching into the gravel of my grandmother’s drive in West Sussex. The sound was usually followed by a groan from my father after so many miles of winding A roads. There was then a growing crescendo of yapping, snarling and barking dogs which soon seemed to be only a very thin door away. We had arrived.

The gravel had signified this, and its full value as an audible security device had been admirably demonstrated. Tarmac is somehow never the same, even if it is more practical and lasts longer. Driveways matter, and although gravel can be tiresome and messy, it is certainly to be preferred to jet-black tarmac, which can be inappropriately municipal. Nowadays, the best of both worlds can be achieved with a resin bonded version.

This is normal tarmac with fine gravel bonded onto its surface so that it looks like gravel. Even if it does not sound like gravel, it is aesthetically pleasing and easy to maintain. The county council in Northamptonshire has introduced it in the paving of some its villages, and it is a pity that more local authorities have not followed suit.

Where gravel is used, the key is a good subbase and the right sort of gravel. It is no good introducing the sort of riverbed pea shingle suitable for driveways in the Thames Valley into the Cotswolds, where the local crushed limestone was traditionally used, or in Scotland, where crushed granite chippings are the norm. As ever, the key is to look carefully at local traditions and to respond accordingly.

Gravel may be fine to drive over, but it can be a bore to walk on. How often has one looked down to discover a stone that had lodged into one’s footwear re-deposited rather embarrassingly onto someone’s immaculate carpet inside? As ever, our ancestors had found an answer to this. In the Abbey Precincts of Westminster, the logic is clear. Areas where people will want to walk are paved in York stone, and the remaining margin areas are laid with gravel or, as here, pebbles. In the larger courts of the Inns of Court in London, these paved paths are of Purbeck stone blocks or brickwork, and link the entrances of the buildings in a logical and direct way.

The same approach can be found in the larger gravelled quadrangles of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The pattern of these paths both direct movement and indicate to motorists of the likelihood that pedestrians may be near. The effect only works with real stone or real brick, which has to be cut thick enough so it will not crack. Concrete or imitation stone paving never weathers well, and is no aesthetic substitute for real stone.

Finally, it may sound too obvious to say, but paths and paving need to follow the desire lines where people need or want to walk. Those paths placed without any knowledge as to their use soon become green and slippery. It is an absolute lesson, which, once learned, will inform paving layout forever more.

Top tips

  • Gravel drives need proper sub-bases and the right gravel. Take proper
  • Avoid using naked black tarmac wherever possible.
  • If they are to be of any use, inset paths and paving should follow logical routes.