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All aboard for animal magic; DESTINATION Teesside Park, MARIE TURBILL gets on board the Farmyard Flyer...

YOU'RE in for a surprise if you flag this bus down.

Passengers on the double-decker are mainly of the four-legged, or feathered, variety.

Welcome to the Farmyard Flyer - Teesside's mobile farm on a bus.

Visiting local schools and events, it makes for an impressive sight on the road.

"You do get the odd bemused look," says owner and driver Gill Rivers.

Fellow drivers can find themselves under the watchful gaze of a passing pony or goat.

"They are pretty quiet as passengers go," she says with a laugh.

Though the cockerels do chirp up with the occasional cock-a-doodle-doo.

The double-decker bus, with its custom-made pens and animal-friendly interior, was the brainchild of Gill and her husband, David.

"We have a small holding of about 20 acres at home including sheep, pigs, cows, ponies, goats, dogs, cats, cockerels and hens," says Gill.

"Originally we wanted to open an education centre at home, but at the moment access prevents us from doing that."

It was after seeing something similar on TV that they struck upon the idea of a mobile farm.

Never one to do things by halves, the idea snowballed into a double-decker bus.

"We bought the bus from Tees Valley Coaches and then had it converted."

Gill says it was a fairly lengthy process to get all the paperwork in place but the Farmyard Flyer finally took to the road in July 2010.

"Downstairs we have pens so we can carry sheep, pigs, goats and sometimes a small pony, with cockerels at the back.

"Upstairs we might have lambs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hens and chicks.

"They don't seem to mind travelling at all. A couple of the pigs are travel sick so they can't come on the bus. But most are quite keen to get on board."

It helps that there's food to tempt them and always lots of love and attention when they reach their destination.

Gill, who is also a part-time agriculture teacher at Durham's Hoffle College, says: "All of the animals that we take on the bus have been hand reared or bottle fed so they are happy to be handled."

Their next stop is Teesside Shopping Park where they will be paying a visit next Monday, part of the park's ongoing biodiversity project, Wild at Teesside - a year-long campaign aiming to help insects, birds, animals and plants in the River Tees wildlife corridor.

Mike Clarke, Teesside Shopping Park manager, says: "There''s no doubt that the farm event will be a huge hit with shoppers and be a really memorable day for the team who work at the park." ? The Farmyard Flyer will be open to visitors at Teesside Shopping Park outside the information centre next Monday, 10am-4pm.

CAPTION(S):

TOP GEAR: Sal the dog, left, with Petetrisha the pig, above, and, top right, Gillian Rivers with the Farmyard Flyer TICKET TO RIDE: Goats Heidi and Harry, above, and, left, one of the lambs ON THE ROAD: A chinchilla on the bus
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 30, 2012
Words:496
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