CHILDREN as young as five found themselves on a nine-hour school bus journey as snowstorms paralysed North-East roads.

Pupils from Yarm School and Teesside High School, at nearby Eaglescliffe, near Stockton, were picked up as normal at 4pm on Thursday for the 15-mile home run, that usually takes 40 minutes.

But as sheet ice and blizzards brought traffic to a standstill it wasn't until nearly 1am yesterday that the final child was dropped off, in Hartlepool.

At one stage, older boys had to push an abandoned car out of the way so their bus could got through.

And, displaying the bulldog spirit, they pooled food to ensure everyone had something to eat, comforted the youngest children and tucked them up to sleep at the front of the bus, and organised games for the others.

Yesterday, as pupils enjoyed a day off to recover, there was praise for their calmness and the dedication of the two coach drivers, who ensured the 80 children got home safely.

"It was frightening but we tried to stay positive so as not to upset the young children, some of whom were just five or six," said Teesside High pupil Ruth Craig, 15.

The youngest were tucked up in coats and allowed to sleep at the front of the coach as it crawled along the A19 dual carriageway.

Ruth and bus monitor Chris Lambert were among the last pupils dropped off in Hartlepool - where their relieved parents were waiting to take them home.

The two coaches are operated by Stockton-based companies Compass Royston and Metro.

Coach company boss Ray King yesterday praised driver Steve Laws and the pupils.

"We thought he'd done enough, so we gave him the morning off - he had already shown dedication above and beyond the call of duty," said Mr King.