This was a nice, quick little project. I have always intended to dig up my ugly, cracked concrete garden path, and replace it with something, you know, less objectively reprehensible. Ideally I wanted stone but thick flags are like £60 a square metre, and I needed 3.5 square metres. Sure you can get cheap Indian stone, but it’s so thin that it has to be bedded on solid cement, which needs a lot of patience (and probably a cement mixer) with little room for mistakes. I wanted paving thick enough that it could be bedded directly on the ground / sand, so I was going to wait until summer and use brick, which is a bit cheaper than stone. That was until spotted a pallet of reclaimed cobbles for sale on eBay, from a farm in Bacup, which I won for £55. Just eyeballing it it looked like enough for the job (which it nearly was). To get it home I roped in a friend and we filled up the boots of our small cars and very gingerly drove them back. It took two trips.
I smashed up the concrete and dug out sufficient depth (and found a ha’penny dated 1943), then started placing stones to get an idea of whether there were enough and how they should tessellate. I discovered there weren’t enough to use in their normal configuration but by turning some of them on their side I could make them go further and almost have enough to complete the job (there would have been enough if some hadn’t been too broken to use ).
I bought some sharp sand -from B&M of all places (Burnley must be the only town where a young female shop assistant will load five bags of sand into your car in the November rain and still genuinely smile about it!). I started placing the cobbles on a mixture of sand and dug-out soil and gravel as necessary to get them to the same level, since I alternated between cobbles uprights and on their sides. I didn’t have to worry about getting an immaculate surface since cobbles are so uneven, and I wanted something authetically old looking anyway. Making a path when you don’t have to worry about a cement base and a perfectly flat surface is sooo easy! Having the area bounded on all sides by ‘walls’ also helps of course -I was able to jam a lot of the stones in tight rows. The neighbour even lent me a massive rubber mallet.
Then it started to rain. Freezing rain. When my hands bacame rigid claws I gave up. Apparently I picked the week of freezing storms to do this. Nevertheless it cleared up just enough the next day for me to finish off, even though I was placing the last few rows in a couple of inches of water that had pooled at the bottom of the slope. You couldn’t do that with your thin, modern cement-based paving! For the very last two rows I had to go a buy a few extra stones from Steptoe’s Yard for £10. I brushed the remaining couple of bags of sharp sand into the gaps (as it started to rain heavily again) and left it to settle for a week.
To finish off I bought a bag of hydrated lime -which was considerably more expensive than I ever expected (about £19 for 25kg, which was about 20kg more than I wanted). No matter, it’s the right stuff to use since it’s permeable and slow drying, unlike cement, and I’ve always wanted to play about with it (if you use it alone with water it will turn back into solid chalk!). I’ll try to use the rest for pointing. Anyway, I mixed it dry 2:1 with sharp sand and brushed it into the joints. That’s all there is to it. After a couple of weeks the joints have become semi solid, and no doubt will get more compacted over time. I’m hoping moss with eventually colonise the joints as soil creeps in, making it all look truly original. It’s not remotely even, and I think it look infinitely better than the old concrete. Now I just hope the local gyppos don’t steal it!