My Name is Annabelle Asher
This is Annabelle's account of her amazing adventure on the Cotswold Way. She is an inspiration to walkers old and young - well done from all at the Cotswold Way!
"My name is Annabelle Asher, I am nine years old and in April 2012 I walked 102 miles along the Cotswold Way from Chipping Campden to Bath in five and a half days in aid of the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal. I did this in memory of Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the highest ranking officer to lose his life in Afghanistan.
In 2009, when I was 6 years old, I saw the Union Jack draped under the name of Rupert Thorneloe as a mark of respect in the dining room of Cothill House Prep School where he was a pupil and my parents are both teachers. I wanted to understand what had happened and then I wanted to know what I could do to help the soldiers and families of the Welsh Guards who have been killed or injured in Afghanistan. I am three quarters Welsh and very proud of it and Lt. Col. Thorneloe was in the Welsh Guards. I started by selling the eggs from my chickens but then I wanted to do something more.
I have always loved walking and had done the 3 peaks of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis by the age of six and a half. I decided to give myself a real challenge by doing the Cotswold Way over a week in my Easter holidays to coincide with the Welsh Guards return to Afghanistan for another 6 month tour of duty. I walked with my Daddy and Rupert the Welsh Guards Bear who had his own Welsh Guards T-shirt. Rupert Thorneloe has been described as “a bear of a man” so my parents bought me a bear to walk with me and he kept me going when it was tough. Mummy was our support group and drove us to the start each day and picked us up at the finish. She also did the shopping, some of the walking, met us along the way with extra food, pitched the tents and cooked for us at night. My two Border Collies Meg and Izzy also walked with me but Meg was too old to do it all and Izzy is just a puppy so she couldn’t do the whole walk even though she wanted to.
I set off from Chipping Campden on day 1 in lovely sunshine and that day we got to Belas Knap. Camping at night was great fun because we have very good tents and sleeping bags but the dogs kept trying to crawl in with us! The second day from Belas Knap to Birdlip was just awful as we had really, really horrendous weather. We had hail, heavy wind, sleet and snow all in one day and I am not ashamed to say that I cried as I was so cold, even though I was wearing proper wet weather gear. My walking boots were also very stiff for such flat conditions so my left ankle was really hurting and I was starting to limp. Rupert Bear decided to hide in my rucksack as he didn’t have any waterproofs but he kept telling me to keep going and I never thought about giving up. Overnight the temperature dropped to -3 degrees and the moisture inside the tent turned to ice but we didn’t feel the cold as we had really good sleeping bags, mummy liners and long johns. Getting out of the sleeping bags the next morning was not so much fun, especially since the water in the campsite had gone off and we couldn’t have a shower.
Day 3 was a lot better as I changed to my walking shoes and the improved, although it still rained and wasn’t very warm. At lunchtime we got a phone call from Mummy telling us that Jeremy Stern from the BBC wanted to interview me for the evening news so I really got a spring in my step and met them in Edge. I was so excited to be on the television but I really hoped that people would see it and help the Welsh Guards because they were the reason for me walking. When we were doing the filming we also bumped into a Cothill old boy, what a coincidence – they are everywhere! The end of Day 3 was at Middleyard and the next day we packed up the tents and moved to Hogsdown Farm near Dursley.
Day 4 was quite exciting as the weather improved a lot and we knew the BBC was going to broadcast our walk in the evening, although we could not see it because we were in our tents. After the broadcast Mummy got lots of texts to say friends had seen us, and people who had never met us started to sponsor me online. (uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AnnabelleAsher)
Day 5 was amazing, one of the best of my life. People who had seen me on the news stopped me along the way and gave me money, others stopped their cars and shouted messages of support when we walked through towns and villages and VERY BEST of all, someone left a sign saying “CONGRATULATIONS ANNABELLE” with a knitted ducking and an orange bar (very yummy) on a wall for me to find. There was no name so I can’t say thank you in person but you are soooooooo kind and it gave me such a lift – you will never know how much.
I only had 10 miles to walk on the last day into Bath and I was so excited to finish as I knew some Welsh Guards were going to meet me at the Cathedral which is the official end of the Cotswold Way. Mummy managed to take us the wrong way across a field as the arrow wasn’t very clear (that was her excuse!) but we made it by lunchtime. Mummy and Daddy say that I can normally talk the legs off six donkeys but I was so amazed that the Welsh Guards had given up a very precious weekend off with their families to meet me that I didn’t really know what to say or how to thank them so I was really quiet. I hope I have made them proud of me. Many thanks go to Warrant Officer Lee Scholes, Lance Corporal Gareth Lee, Guardsman James William and Guardsman Jason Jennings who were so lovely and gave up their time to come and meet me. My favourite thing in the world is ice-cream and I had a delicious one outside Bath Abbey after I’d finished but, guess what, it started raining!
I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported me and sponsored me for my walk. When I got home the BBC did a follow up on Radio Oxford and Kelvin MacKenzie from the Daily Mail wrote about me, but what I have done is not about me; it is about remembering Rupert Thorneloe and the soldiers and families of those killed and injured in Afghanistan.
The Ashers are not a religious family but in Prinknash Abbey on Day 3 of my walk Mummy wrote two prayer cards for the monks’ evening prayers. The first was to pray for my ankle to last until the end as it was hurting a lot and the second was for all the Welsh Guards and everyone serving in Afghanistan to come home from Afghanistan safely. The first one came true and in Bath Abbey she lit two candles; one to say thank you for my ankle holding out and the other to ask again for the Welsh Guards and the boyfriend of a lady who didn’t know me but had sponsored me to come back unharmed. We all hope that they will.
If you are wondering whether to do the Cotswold Way then DO IT! If I can, then you can and I’m sure you will enjoy it. I loved doing it despite the weather. I think of the Welsh Guards every day, I am so proud of them and I hope they, and Rupert Thorneloe’s family, are proud of me.