Laying paths is a reasonably easy DIY project that does not require a great deal of skill. Nevertheless, it can still be hard time-consuming work: 1 cubic meter of wet concrete – roughly enough for a path about 15.25m (50ft) long – weighs about 2.32t (2 tons). If you are hand-mixing concrete, you’ll be picking up those 2 tons a shovelful at a time, so, for a large area, consider hiring a mixer or buying ready-mixed concrete.
If you are laying a path on a new site, leave the area alone for a few weeks and watch which way people – and pets – make their own paths. It may be easier to lay a path there than persuade them to walk another route. Bear in mind that the paths people take vary according to the time of year. If you are cutting a path through a lawn, calculate your levels so that the paving lies about 18mm (3/4in) below the level of surrounding turf. This way you can mow the grass right over the edge without damaging your lawnmower.
Once you have decided on the route and proportions of your path mark out the perimeter edges with pegs and lengths of string. Excavate the site, removing the topsoil and any vegetation down to a level that allows for the combined height of the sand layer and the paving itself. Compact and level the soil.
A path – whether concrete or paving stones or blocks – does not require a hardcore sub-base since it is just for pedestrian traffic. Instead, lay a well-compacted 25mm (1in) layer of sharp sand. Use a garden roller to compact the sand, spreading it with a rake and levelling it by scraping and tamping with a length of timber.
Lay an area of paving on the sand, working from one end of the path to the other. Lay whole bricks first, leaving cutting and filling spaces until you have completed about 2m sq (2 sq yds). A simple pattern of parallel lines of bricks to the path sides will require the least amount of cutting.
When the paving is complete, tamp the paving into the bed of sand by laying a stout batten on top and striking it with a heavy club hammer. Brush in a dry mix of sand and cement (in roughly a 4:1 ratio) between the joints. This will gradually take up moisture from the ground and slowly set.
Sweep off any excess mortar and pass a heavy garden roller along the path. Add more dry mortar mix, sweeping it well into the joints. Clean off any excess mortar, then use a watering can with a rose sprinkler to lightly wet the surface. You should allow the mortar joints to dry thoroughly before the path is used.
Edging stones laid at each side and bedded into the mortar add a final touch. These can be bricks set on their ends and at an angle, or you could use the traditional ‘rope’ top glazed ceramic panels that were popular in Victorian gardens.