THE crew of a Royal Navy ship has been strengthening its links with a County Durham school.

Later this year, the Royal Navy’s fleet flagship, HMS Bulwark, will spend four months on arduous exercises in the Middle East.

But during a visit to the North-East, some of her 350 crew were engaged in another kind of special operation - at a remote rural County Durham school.

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Forest of Teesdale primary, near Middleton-in-Teesdale, has been one of the ship’s affiliates since HMS Bulwark entered service more than a decade ago.

As part of the link, Lieutenant Louis Fagan, accompanied by a team of 12 logistics ratings, helped build a pond in the school grounds and carried out a number of other tasks, including painting and planting.

Lt Fagan said crew members tried to visit Forest of Teesdale school at least once a year to maintain the link with the ship.

“It’s nice for us to come out and do something different and meet the children,” he said.

Prior to docking at North Shields, HMS Bulwark had taken part in Joint Warrior, an international exercise which took place off Scotland.

The vessel then heads to Rotterdam to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the UK and Royal Netherlands Navy Amphibious Force, and then Liverpool to participate in the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Forest of Teesdale head Ian Carroll said the school’s 16 pupils were proud of their association with the ship and kept in contact via emails and pictures.

“Because we are in such a rural area, our children don’t have a lot of experience of the outside world.

“So one of the things we aim to do is get them out and about so rural isolation isn’t such a barrier.”

He added: “It’s a very close affiliation and we feel as if we are part of the ship.

“HMS Bulwark is the flag ship of the fleet and the children are very proud of that link.”

The youngsters will visit the ship at North Shields today (Friday), while teacher Andrew Harrison was invited to spend three days on board as she sailed from Plymouth to North Shields.

“We went into the quiet waters off Plymouth and did various exercises and I even went onto one of the landing craft,” said Mr Harrison.