There is a wide and ever-expanding menu of aggregates that can be used as a surface dressing and so, to avoid overcomplicating the subject and repeating the same information over and over again, the term "gravel" will be used throughout these notes. The principles and properties discussed apply equally to cinders, ash, hoggin, or any of the other aggregates discussed, except that the coverage rates given below may be slightly different.

Some definitions
Gravel refers to small stones, generally 5-30mm in diameter, that may be angular or rounded. Angular gravels are usually sourced from quarries, a by-product of the crushing processes, whereas rounded gravels are from a fluvial source, such as an old river bed, beaches, and channel dredging. Gravels can be of almost any colour, depending on the parent rock type, or even a multi-coloured blend. See the Gravel Gallery for more examples of popular British and Irish gravels.

Peagravel refers to a well-rounded gravel, usually in the 5-10mm size range. It is a popular bedding material for laying drainage pipes.

Self-binding Gravel is a specific blend of aggregates that gives a semi-bound finish. This is considered in more detail on a separate page.

Typical Pea Gravel
Cinders and Ash refer to the burnt fuel residue from power stations. It is not as freely available as it once was. Pulverised Fly Ash (PFA) is generally too light and the grain size too small to be much use as a surface dressing, but other ash residues and cinders are available in some areas. Colour is usually black, blue-black or deep red.

Hoggin is the term given to a mixture of clays, sands and gravels to form a material that compacts well and provides a usable, stable surface at low cost. There is some variation in colour but it is predominantly" buff". We don't have this 'hoggin' in t'north of Britain, nor in Ireland, as we've far more sense and a much better selection of self-binding gravels, but it is popular in the south and east of England. Crag is a crushed shell product, popular in the south-east of England and East Anglia. It is said to be less prone to being picked up by foot traffic and is a popular surfacing for horse arenas and in the Royal Parks, apparently. Colour depends on shell type.

Gravel as ground cover


Crag laid over a subbase

Gravels and other surface dressings provide a relatively simple path structure at a low cost. Highly decorative (and costly) aggregates may be used just as well as cheap cinders or limestone chippings. Surface dressing aggregates are ideal for garden paths, and with a good sub-base, they can provide a large drive quickly and at minimal expense.

What Size?
One of the most frequently asked questions about gravel surfacing is "What size gravel should I use?" The gravels most commonly used as a loose surface dressing are in the 6-20mm size range. Anything less than 6mm is more akin to a grit and is too easily disturbed; anything over 18-20mm can be difficult to walk upon. In general, the smaller 6-10mm gravels would be used for footpaths and the 10-18mm gravels for driveways, but it really is a matter of personal taste. One deciding factor could be that, the smaller the gravel, the more the cats like to use it as a toilet! The sizes of other surface dressing aggregates is less critical

A 10mm and a 6mm Gravel

as they tend to "come as they are". Ash and cinders are usually pulverised at source to eliminate any clag that may be over 25mm in size; hoggin is graded to contain only small gravels (usually under 10mm) with the clay binder.

In The Garden
There is also some demand for gravel to be used as a surface for areas of gardens, such as in the currently popular 'Mediterranean-style' gardens. In these circumstances, plants are often placed randomly within the area of gravel, and so it is essential that a reasonable topsoil exists beneath the gravel to provide nourishment and anchorage for the plants. We use a different construction for garden ground cover to that illustrated below for paths and drives. The amount of excavation is reduced to a minimum, and usually consists of little more than skimming off the surface vegetation. Once the chosen area has been dug-off, and any edgings installed, a permeable landscape fabric is laid out over the entire area. In breezy conditions, it may be helpful to weigh down the landscape fabric with bricks or similar, until the gravel has been barrowed in and placed.

The gravel is brought in, spread to a thickness of 30-40mm with a rake, and then compacted with a vibrating plate compactor. Once this is complete, the plants can be positioned as required throughout the gravelled area and re-arranged until the desired effect is acheived. Once the distribution and spacing of the plants is satisfactory, the gravel can be scraped aside from where each plant is to go, the landscape fabric slit cross-wise with a knife, allowing access to the underlying top-soil, and the planting hole prepared.

Once the plant is in its final position and backfilled with soil, the landscape fabric can be trimmed as required and the gravel pushed back around the plant.

There are 3 layers to a typical gravel pavement, as a bedding layer is not required. The

proposed function of the gravel pavement has an important bearing on the construction method used. Separate notes are given for path and for drive construction. There is a FAQ page considering the common question about covering an existing tarmac or concrete driveway with a gravel. Click here to access the FAQ.

Path Construction
Decide where the path is to run, and mark out as required. See Setting Out page for further guidance on marking out a pavement. It is assumed that the path is to be flush i.e. level, with the existing ground.

The surface needs to be dug off to a depth of 100mm. Remove all weeds and other unwanted organic matter. If the area of the path is troubled with weeds, the excavated sub-grade may be treated with a general weedkiller such as Sodium Chlorate. Alternatively, a permeable geo-membrane may be used.

Some thought should be given to whether an edging restraint is required for the path. In gardens, the loose surface dressing can become mixed with surrounding soil very easily. An edging helps to keep the gravel on the path and off the beds. If an edging is required, it should be constructed at this point. Timber gravel boards or a brick edging are eminently suitable.

Gravel path with block edging

This layer provides the strength and competence of the gravel path. It should consist of a 75-100mm layer of crushed stone, hardcore or crushed rubble etc., hammered down with a vibrating plate compactor or a punnel. Most Builders' Merchants stock DTp1, which is an ideal material for a sub-base. Whatever material is chosen for the sub-base, it should contain a good mix of 'lumps' and 'fines' evenly distributed throughout the material. This is to ensure a solid base with few or no voids. A 90mm layer of sub-base material should compact to approximately 75mm although different materials compact differently.

1 tonne of DTp1 granular sub-base covers approx 6-8 m² at 75mm compacted thickness. Refer to the Sub-bases page for further details on sub-base types and materials.

Rounded gravels are usually from a marine or river source while angular gravels are a valuable product of quarry blasting. Both are quite suitable for surface dressing pathway. Ideal gravel sizes for pedestrian traffic is in the range 6-15mm. Smaller gravels tend to disappear into a mush while larger sizes can be uncomfortable or difficult to walk upon. The gravel can be spread directly onto the prepared sub-base, and then raked out to the desired level as a layer 2540mm thick. In practice, we spread a thin layer of the gravel over the subbase and run the plate compactor over it once or twice to embed it into the sub-base. The path is then topped-up and compacted again. We find this helps prevent the sub-base becoming exposed if the gravel dressing is scuffed off.

Path construction detail

Coverage rates for gravels are typically 15-20 m² per tonne at 35mm thick. Cinders or ashes may cover 17-23 m².

Drive Construction
Decide where the driveway is to run, and mark out as required. It is assumed that the drive is to be flush i.e. level, with the existing ground. On wet or waterlogged ground, it will be advantageous to install a land drainage system along the edges of the drive . Larger driveways should be cambered (i.e. slightly higher in the centre than at the edges, as most roads are) to assist rapid drainage and minimise waterlogging. See Setting Out Page

The surface needs to be dug off to a minimum depth of 135mm, or 180mm for heavier vehicles such as vans and pick-up trucks. Any soft spots should be excavated and filled with compacted sub-base material. Remove all weeds and other unwanted organic matter. On ground troubled with weeds, the excavated sub-grade should be doused with a general weedkiller such as Sodium Chlorate and/or consider using a permeable geo-textile. These geo-textiles can also help to 'stiffen' less firm ground as well as preventing the sub-base being driven into the sub-grade which can result in the sub-grade 'pumping' up into the subbase.

If an edging restraint is needed, construct it now, before laying the sub-base. The gravel can become mixed with surrounding soil or lawn very easily. An edging helps to keep the gravel where it should be and off the surrounding grounds. Timber gravel boards, a brick edging or edging kerbs are fine.

Drive construction detail

This layer provides the strength and competence of the gravel drive. It should consist of a 130mm layer of DTp Type 1 granular sub-base material, hammered down with a vibrating plate compactor or vibrating roller, both available from local hire shops, to an approx compacted thickness of 100mm. For heavier applications, use 180mm of hardcore, compacted to 150mm thick. 1 tonne of DTp 1 covers approx 5 m² at 100mm compacted thickness, and approx. 3.5m² at 150mm compacted thickness.

This part of the construction is exactly the same as that given above for paths. Any size gravel or other surface dressing can be used for a driveway, although 10mm is the most popular choice. Any aggregate larger than 20mm poses a hazard if flicked up by the tyres of traffic using the driveway. A harder gravel, such as granite, flint or magnesian limestone is a good choice for driveways. Some of the softer local gravels, such as Cotswold buff limestone or Keuper sandstone, are relatively soft and can be rapidly crushed to dust by repeated trafficking.

It is recommended that the gravel is compacted or rolled to aid settlement, but it may take some time before it becomes thoroughly embedded in the underlying sub-base.

Pros and Cons - Price Guide
Reasonably cheap and the installed sub-base is suitable to be overlaid at some future date with a different surface, such as block paving or tarmac. May need 'topping-up' at intervals. Can be treated with a general weedkiller if required. Very unpopular with burglars because of the crunching noise made when someone walks or drives over it. Children seem to be very fond of filling gullies with the gravel!

Click here to read notes on the specification used when compiling the above prices.

Written Specification for Gravel Hardstanding

Self-binding gravels are somewhat different from the more typical gravels mentioned on other pages. Most of the decorative and surfacing gravels are what we term "clean', that is, they have had all the fines (dust) removed and they are, essentially small pebbles. In contrast, self-binding gravels contain significant quantities of fines - indeed, with some products, fines are actually added to improve the self-binding ability. The result is that the fines and particles knit together and compact to form a surface that is less susceptible to suffing and being kicked all over the place, but isn't 'permanently hard', in the sense that a concrete, bitmac or resin surface would be. In general, most of the self-binding materials can be dug out years after first being placed, crumbled and re-used (there are certain exceptions). They are extremely popular products for commercial or public applications where a simple, cheap, lowmaintenance, natural-looking pathway or trackway is required. They can be found on almost every golf course, and they are widely used for Parks, Nature Trails, fact, you've probably walked miles over these products and never realised what it was!

A typical self-binding gravel pathway

Products and Availabilty
There is a wide selction of these materials, but most of them tend to be 'local'. They are quarried and distributed over a local area and rarely travel more than 30 miles (50km) from source. They tend to be a cheap, easily obtained, soft-ish local stone with no other potential use, other than as a surface dressing for footpaths and low-speed trackways. So, in Northern england, they tend to be limestone based, or one of the softer Namurian grits, while in Scotland they might be the Old Red Sandstone (Bunter). Slate Waste is popular in North and Mid-Wales; limestone and drumlin gravels in Ireland; granite waste in Cornwall; Portland gravel in Southern England...and so on. There are a couple of products that perform so well they have established a nationwide market, at least in England. the first of these is the Breedon Gravel, a crushed magnesian limestone from Derbyshire that has an attractive colour described as 'Golden Amber'. It's found favour at Buck House in London, where all the paths are dressed with it, and it has also been used on other properties belonging to Her Maj and the other Royals.

Breedon Gravel
The other nationally available product is "Cedec", a product developed and sold via the CED group of companies, based in Thurrock, Essex, but available from any of its branches. This product is a mixture of crushed granites and quartz that comes in either a red or a buff colour. Unlike the Breedon gravel, Cedec is pH Neutral and chemically inert, so it is popular for use in planted areas, particularly those where acid or alkali sensitive plants have been used.

Cedec Close Up

The Cedec is spread and levelled whilst damp/moist and then compacted using a roller or vibrating plate. The material 'sets' when dry, but not to the same extent as would a concrete or bitmac. The surface remains loose-ish and dusty, as do all these self-binding products, but the Cedec does 'harden' to the point of becoming impermeable in some heavily trafficked projects. This is where it comes into its own, as if ponding is occurring, the material can be loosened using a fork or a pick, which will open up the drainage and, hopefully, alleviate the ponding problem. Other local products should be available through local Builders' Merchants and Providers. The may have strange, local names but most competent Merchants and Providers will understand what is required if asked for a self-binding gravel.

Construction and Coverage
The basic construction for any selfbinding gravel pavement is the same as that for other gravels. A sub-base is essential, and this should be laid over a prepared sub-grade, with an optional separation membrane used between subgrade and sub-base, if ground conditions warrant it. The sub-base should be not less than 75mm deep for foot traffic and at least 100mm thick for light vehicles. Once compacted, the self-binding gravel is spread over the surface to a depth of 40-50mm and then compacted.

Construction cross-section

Edging kerbs or other edging units can be used, if prefered. These have the advantage of containing the self-binding gravel, but, for more casual, natural setting, the edging units are often omitted and the grass or adjacent vegetation is allowed to encroach on the edges of the pathway to give a softer, less harshly-defined appearance. Where edgings are used, it's standard practice to keep the level of the self-binding gravel low by around 6mm or so to prevent migration of the material over the top of the edging. However, the surface must not be kept too low or a trip hazard may develop. 6mm is fine.

Gravel path with edging to just one side

As with other gravels, self-binding products are not suitable for use on any gradient greater than around 1:12, although the extent of migration experienced with self-binding gravels is considerably less than that found with loose gravels. Whenever a gradient needs to be accommodated, then a series of steps is the most appropriate solution. As mentioned above, some form of edge restraint will be required to contain the self-binding gravel, and the level should be kept slightly low (6mm) to minimise loss of material. Coverage is variable, as it depends on the density of the material itself, and also the moisture content, but, as a rough guide, 1 tonne of a typical self-binding gravel will cover around 10-12m² at a thickness of around 40mm. If you're buying in smaller quantities for a DIY or garden project, then reckon on 2 - 2½ 40kg bags for each square metre.

A limestone self-binding gravel from Co. Clare

Pros and Cons

It should be noted that while self-binding aggregates are a low-maintenance surface, that's not the same as NO maintenance. Weeds will establish themselves on the surface - they do not grow up through the construction, but rather the seed settles onto the surface and the weed grows into the surface. However, they are fairly easy to remove, using a spring-tined rake or a shovel, and the selfbinding gravel is simply re-levelled and stamped back down into place.

Another great advantage of self-binding gravels is that it's immune to the disgusting habit of spitting out chewing gum. This filthy display of low manners has blighted the paving of every village, town and city in these islands, but the gum just cannot adhere to the loose, dusty surface of the gravels, and so it is soon lost, usually by sticking to the sole of some poor sod's shoes. Personally, I think we should be allowed to birch those found guilty of spitting out gum onto a public pavement: not just because it's a nasty, foul, germ-spreading and disgusting thing to do, but also because it ruins so many wonderful pavements. The downside of this is that the surface is loose, and will be picked up and carried on the soles of shoes. Therefore it's essential that some form of matting or grating is provided at thresholds to prevent the material being carried indoors, especially where laminate or wooden flooring is present.

Red self-binding gravel used on a golf course

Close-up of red self-binding gravel

Ornamental gravels and other decorative surface dressings
These decorative surface dressings should be laid in much the same way as that shown on the Gravel Surfaces page.

There's been a surge in interest about modern, ornamental gravels and surface dressings in the past few years, primarily for garden design where some bold statement or design theme is being made. All of these ornamental surface dressings are vastly more expensive than a standard 'pea-gravel' available from a Builders' Merchant, but the preparation and methodology of construction are exactly the same as given above. The four most commonly specified ornamental surface dressings are:y y y y slate mulch coloured gravel tumbled glass metallic nodules

Decorative gravel used to create a striking visual display at a Garden Show

All prices stated in the sub-sections below are for guidance only. They include excavation and disposal of spoil on-site (assuming it to be topsoil), a standard landscape fabric and the surface dressing as stated. VAT is included. Bear in mind that prices vary throughout the UK and you should consult your local stockists for up to date prices.

Slate Mulch

Despite its trendy image and price tag to match, this stuff is actually the waste by-product from hundreds of years of roofing slate production. 20 years ago, the quarry owners could barely give it away, but now, thanks to the influence of TV Home Improvement programmes, it's been given a new respectability. See also Slate Paving page Different colours are available, depending on where the slate is originally sourced, but the commonest colours are blues, purples and greens. Very trendy, but not the easiest surface to walk upon. Coverage is around 0.4m² per 40Kg bag at 30mm deep.

Mixed Slate Mulch

Click here to read notes on the specification used when compiling the above prices.

Penrhyn slate has distinctive purple and red colouring that is immdeately recognisable....

...while the Blaenau slate is more bluey-blacky-indigo

Used as mulches or in decorative areas, slate forms an attractive dressing, but when it's used for areas subject to vehicular traffic, its inherent brittleness means that it tends to get crushed down to a dust quite quickly. Now, this may not be a bad thing, as the dust generated acts as a binder and knits together the larger pieces, creating a sturdy, trafficable surface. For decorative uses, the tumbled and washed slate is a better choice as it has had all sharp edges nullified and the claggy dust washed away, leaving an attractive, colourful, highly textured covering.

Green slate normally comes from the Lake District

Coloured Gravels
These come in two main types - those that are made from a naturally coloured rock, such as a white marble or green basalt, and those that are covered with a coloured coating, such as "Coloreis®" which is basically painted limestone chippings. Usually in 6mm or 10mm sizes, although there are graded ranges available, such as 4-10mm, as well as larger 20mm or bigger gravels. Special colours are manufactured, often for incorporation in a bound surface dressing (see Resin Bonded Paving) as well as selected gravels of a guaranteed hardness. Some Green and Red coloured aggregates are now being used to de-lineate cycleways and other traffic lanes, as well as being used in creative landscape designs.

6mm Coloured Gravel

Just a few of the many naturally and artificially coloured gravels available
These products tend to be quite expensive; the artificially coloured stones, even at trade prices, are often 10 times the price of a 'natural' gravel, so be prepared for your pockets to be emptied. Prices of £250-£800 plus VAT per tonne are not uncommon for the artificially coloured aggregates, while the imported naturally coloured products may be £100-£400, plus VAT. And with coverage in the region of 15-20m² per tonne at 35mm deep, the cost can soon reach £30 per square metre, or more than three times the price of buying, say, block paving bricks. You have been warned!

Notes on pricing of Gravel Surfaces:
All prices include excavation to formation level and appropriate disposal of spoil, all necessary labour, tool hire and VAT. Drainage is NOT included, nor are edgings or any other form of edge restraint. Allowance has been made for 100mm spread of the sub-base at the edges, and for a small amount of wastage. It has been assumed that the gravel will be delivered in 'Agg Bags' and cost £41 per tonne including VAT. Prices are for GUIDANCE only - consult your local contractors, whose prices, specification, terms and conditions may vary.

Garden Cover Construction 

Excavation to formation level    

(50mm below paving level) Dumping of all spoil on site Patio Grade Landscape Fabric (Patio Partner) 50mm compacted thickness of 10mm Cheshire Pink Gravel Clear site on completion

Footpath Construction      

Excavation to formation level (125mm below paving level) Cart Away of all spoil by skip (single skip) Patio Grade Landscape Fabric (Patio Partner) 75mm DTp1 subbase 50mm compacted thickness of 10mm Cheshire Pink Gravel Clear site on completion

Driveway Construction      

Excavation to formation level (150mm below paving level) Cart Away of all spoil by skip (2 skips) Professional Grade Geo-membrane (Terram 1000) 100mm DTp1 subbase 50mm compacted thickness of 10mm Cheshire Pink Gravel Clear site on completion

Slate Mulch Ground Cover   

Excavation to formation level (40mm below paving level) Dumping of all spoil on site Patio Grade Landscape Fabric (Patio Partner)  

50mm compacted thickness of 50mm Tumbled Penrhyn Slate Waste (Purple) Clear site on completion

Coloured Gravel Ground Cover     

Excavation to formation level (40mm below paving level) Dumping of all spoil on site Patio Grade Landscape Fabric (Patio Partner) 45mm compacted thickness of 10mm Coloreis coloured gravel Clear site on completion

Tumbled Glass Ground Cover 

Excavation to formation level    

(40mm below paving level) Dumping of all spoil on site Patio Grade Landscape Fabric (Patio Partner) 45mm compacted thickness of Tumbled Coloreis Glass Clear site on completion

Tumbled Glass
This type of product is made in a number of ways, but they all tend to be 'tumbled' in some way to remove any sharp edges, resulting in nodules that are rounded, very much like a marine gravel or a pebble on the beach. Colours are limited only by the colour of the starter glass, so blues, browns and greens tend to be popular, as well as 'clear'. Comes in a variety of sizes, from 1mm granules up to 10 or 12mm pebbles and even bigger 20-30mm 'beads'. Again, very expensive, as much as £500 per tonne!

10mm Tumbled Glass

Click here to read notes on the specification used when compiling the above prices.

Metallic Nodules
I'm tempted to call these products 'Metal Filings', as that's what they are, basically, if a little bigger. The two most commonly seen decorative metal nodules are Copper and Aluminium, and, while they may be a little OTT for large areas of paving, they are superb for detailing prestigious paving.

Aluminium Nodules and Steel Washers used as a jointing detail in a show garden

Unlike the coloured gravels and tumbled glasses, which are laid, like 'normal' gravels at around 30-40mm thick, these metal dressings are laid just thick enough to cover the surface, usually around 6mm - a 30mm thick layer of copper granules would be a major temptation to the local wealth redistribution agents (thieves). At 4-8mm average depth of cover, 1-3mm copper covers approximately 4 m² per 100Kg, while at a similar thickness, 6mm aluminium will cover approximately 7.5 m² per 100Kg. Price depends on quantity, but can be very, very expensive - I've seen prices of £2-£20 per Kg over the past 12 months