Steps and Stone Pitching
Which technique to use to surface a sloping path depends on a number of factors. Many users find steps difficult to negotiate - although slopes are just as difficult for others. Stone pitching is appropriate for remote areas but may not suitable for all locations, and can be difficult to negotiate for some walkers.
Issues to consider include :
- The landscape — paths in remote locations should be surfaced in ways which are informal and inconspicuous. Steps are likely to be inappropriate.
- Users — is the path accessible to wide range of users? If so building steps may create a barrier. Do people with pushchairs or wheelchairs use the route, or are they likely to want to? Remember that steps or pitching are rarely appropriate on a bridleway!
- Terrain — is the slope stable ? will the steps or pitching require regular maintenance checks ?
- How will materials be brought onto site?
- Is a handrail required? Many less able users rely on handrails for suport while climbing steps, but they can be difficult to get right in rural locations and need frequent inspections to ensure they can be relied on.
Building steps is one of the most difficult parts of footpath construction, and often fails due to wrong choice of line, insecure construction, or lack of drainage. Only build steps if there is no other way around the problem. The BTCV practical handbook for footpaths suggests the following guidelines for considering whether or not to build steps.
- On existing routes, is the slope so badly gullied or eroded that steps are required to prevent further damage?
- Is there danger to path users because of an eroded or slippery slope? Danger may be acceptable in some locations, such as on mountain-sides, whereas a path in a country park should cater for the less agile walker.
- Consider whether there is any provision for maintenance. Well-built stone steps should be maintenance-free, but steps with wooden risers require frequent attention and it may be better not to build if such provision for maintenance cannot be made.
- On slopes below about 20 degrees, would a more durable solution be to stone pitch the entire path, rather than putting in steps?
- Are there alternative ways which visitors can use to get up and down the slope? What are the chances of walkers keeping to the steps?
- Try to anticipate where steps will be needed on new paths instead of waiting to see where erosion occurs. It is easier to get steps into use if they are part of the original design. Putting them in when the need arises will involve the extra work of repairing damage and changing patterns of use.
The manual gives advice on timber and stone step construction and design.
Stone pitching is a traditional technique used to surface steep sections of path, usually in rural upland settings. The technique basically involves 'setting' stones into the surface of the path to create a firm surface. The stones are not placed in a regular order so the effect is more natural and less obtrusive than steps, and can be built using irregular stone.
Many upland paths are pitched, both in the UK and elsewhere. The national parks have been responsible for many miles of pitched paths and some of the finest examples are in the Lake District.
The Lake District National Park Authority rely on a small band of skilled contrators to carry out the work, because they are all used to working together there is no need for detailed work specs, however this is a sample contract for work on Dollywagon.
The pictures show an eroded path before works, and the same path with the completed stone pitched surface.
(photos thanks to Lake District National Park Authority)