This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
It might not be justifiable to make a distinction between a walk and a footpath as a feature of utility in the garden, still we think there is or ought to be some distinctive difference, in so far as the construction is concerned, between say the walks of a kitchen-garden which have to withstand the wear and tear of traffic, and the footpaths in a pleasure-ground which are made to be comfortably walked on and enjoyed. Some walks must be made to be wear-resisting as well as for comfort; others for comfort alone. The perfection of a footpath is one made of grassy turf, tough and dry, and closely shaven; the perfection of a walk is perhaps one made of asphalt, and peppered over with very fine gravel; but as neither of these pieces of perfection are always practicable, or possible, or even permissible, the best attainable must content us. It is remarkable that human beings, of whatever quality, will decidedly walk on grass in preference to the smoothest and best-kept walks, so that by the side of a frequented walk there will always be found more or less of a footpath running parallel, unless some obstruction is placed in the way; and hence also in every public garden her Majesty's subjects are requested to keep off the grass, an injunction repugnant to the inclinations of the said subjects.
We prefer also to walk on a Brussels' carpet, rather than on the most brilliantly polished of marble-floors, because of the comfort afforded by the buffer between our feet and the hard floor. It will be remarked that the footpaths or portions of footpaths least avoided are those which are soft and elastic without being wet, - the foot at once responds to the soft comfortable sensation; but when a hard harsh surface is encountered, the foot instinctively turns to the grass. The formation of parallel footpaths is compelled when the walk is gravelled with a hard material, or where the bottom is hard and rough, even if blended with fine. Voluntary penance is said to be wholesome, but few aspire to it.
In making footpaths and walks, it is not necessary to take the soil out deep, as is often done, and to fill up the space again with rough materials, with the idea of making the path dry; this is just frustrating in the very worst way the first object that should be aimed at in making a comfortable footpath. A deep bottoming of stones or shingle destroys all elasticity and softness in a footpath, and does not at all add to its dryness. The line of a footpath can be made thoroughly dry, so far as draining can do it, and provision can be made for carrying off the surface water; but in order to do so, it is not necessary to dig a ditch in the middle of it, and fill in with rubble-stones, but rather to drain one or both sides and leave the middle intact, with just sufficient excavation, say 4 inches, on which to lay a thin coat of fine-sorted gravel, thus preserving as far as possible the elasticity of the soil underneath the gravel. A walk made on the opposite principle remains permanently comparatively harsh and uncomfortable to walk on, and becomes aggravated in very dry weather.
A fact not generally recognised is, that over-dryness is exceedingly detrimental to roads and walks as well as over-wet; and we have found it necessary to water the walks of a pleasure-ground to preserve them from breaking up from excessive treading - just as the water-cart benefits a road on which there is much driving in dry weather. Even in the making of walks, where much traffic is expected, deep excavation should be avoided. Macadam depended not on a large quantity of materials, but on a thin coating carefully laid on after the foundation of the road was built and made thoroughly dry. The most enjoyable footpaths we ever knew were made over bog-soil, well drained, levelled, and just a thin coating of fine river gravel over the surface; and there seems no reason why bog-soil, where attainable, should not be substituted for harder material for the bottoming of footpaths: it would be the cocoa-fibre mat of the pleasure-ground. On the modern iron road, the different sensation of the stone sleeper and the wooden one is at once felt; or that of a train passing over Chatmoss, compared with the hard rattle of one passing the rocky-neighbourhood of Penrith. We do not wish to discuss the question in detail at present how walks should be made; we only want to show that something imperfect in their construction, or something very-wrong with their surface, compels people to take to the grass, and so form the offensive footpath.
The direction which walks and footpaths should take about pleasure-grounds and parks is a question that should be well considered by landscape and other gardeners, in first laying out places; and this, if not attended to, will be a source of irritation ever after. These are often, indeed generally, laid down in an arbitrary sort of way, to complete the symmetry of a plan to be afterwards blotted out or abandoned and another course substituted. The current of humanity is like water, difficult to divert from a natural channel. Footpaths are always an eyesore, especially when they cross fences; indeed nothing seems to impede the course of a human footpath. In this respect the human animal rivals the ant or land-crab: one instance is daily under our notice, where the offensive line of march crosses a grass plot over two iron fences, two walks diagonally, a shrubbery, a plantation, a wall eight feet high with two wires stretched on the top, and finally, a deep fosse or ditch. It is just Suez or Nicaragua on a small scale - the path must be made sooner or later. In thus recognising the footpath as a route for the made walk, we put an end to all stiff formalities in the matter of walk-making and in laying out grounds.
A walk must lead to somewhere, and be for some use, and not a mere streak of gravel on which nobody has any desire to travel. It does not necessarily require to go straight - very few bye-paths do - but should rather have a tendency to curve right and left.
If the natural blending of the useful and ornamental were more generally recognised - always giving the useful the first thought - there would be fewer troubles with bye-paths. We could mention almost offhand a dozen lordly places where the dairy and kitchen-garden produce cannot approach the kitchen without crossing under the principal windows, and being carried through the pleasure-grounds, unless a very wide detour is made. In other places the lines of walks are made to join at long acute angles, where the temptation is irresistible to cut across. Carriage-drives which people are expected to follow are made to deviate for some view or effective bit of scenery, and so in the end a bye-path is sure to be made. We could name a dozen places with enormous expanses of sterile gravel walks leading to nowhere and useless, and where a constant war is waged with bye-paths in the shape of notice-boards, iron hoops, and stumps.
No wonder a taste is growing for the wild garden, the wilderness, and the woods, with cool and natural footpaths made at a fraction of the expense required for acres of hard gravel, and infinitely more enjoyable. The Squire's Gardener.