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Working Out at The Warren: The Green Gym

A well-clad couple passed my wife as she hacked at the undergrowth. “Good to see you doing something useful for once”, said the man, mistaking her and the rest of us volunteers as miscreants on community service.  “As opposed to going for a walk?” parried my wife.  He looked suitably embarrassed. Others ask: “Why do you do it, when you don’t get paid?”  Or: “You’re wasting your time.”  But most are positive.  “Good to see footpaths opening up.”  And: “The steps make all the difference – you deserve a medal.”  Positive reinforcement.  But even without it, we’d still turn up in rain, snow or shine.

 For this is The Warren, Folkestone’s neglected gem.  Hundreds of acres of verdant landslip, stretching from the East Cliff towards Samphire Hoe.  We’re at the weekly green gym which for almost a year has been cutting back rampant vegetation, fixing bridges and building steps on awkward slopes.  Designated an area of special scientific interest, The Warren was once chalk grassland.  But since grazing animals were banned in 1924, trees and shrubs have proliferated.  A natural country park has evolved, lush with woods, ponds and wildlife, criss-crossed by paths and precipitous climbs on the towering cliffs.       

But this wonderland has run away with itself.  Paths have become overgrown.  Brambles are everywhere – dense and deterring.  Walkers are frustrated.  As it is, remarkably few Folkestonians use The Warren.  Many don’t know it exists.  With obesity running at 23 per cent in Shepway and life expectancy in East Folkestone ten years less than in the west, The Warren is a health facility on the doorstep.  And it’s free.    

 Enter Giles Barnard, Shepway District Council’s visionary safety officer.  Backed by a Kent County Council grant secured by Cllr Roland Tolputt, Giles has developed the green gym.  Each Thursday morning he deploys a dozen or so of us with saws, slashers, picks and hammers.  The first major achievement has been the restoration of a charming pathway meandering diagonally from East Cliff to East Wear Bay – a welcoming gateway to The Warren.

 To join the green gym, call Giles Barnard on 01303 853695 or email csu@shepway.gov.uk 

Or, just turn up at 10am on Thursday at the bowls club car park, next to Jock’s Pitch, Wear Bay Road, Folkestone.

 David Taylor