HAMSTERLEY is an attractive village of around 500 souls, just seven miles west of Bishop Auckland but pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Growing on its doorstep is a 4,900-acre forest, planted almost a century ago – “a delightful oasis,” says the Forestry Commission website, which seems particularly pleased about something called the Gruffalo Trail.

The village itself retains three churches – the CofE dating from Norman times, the Baptists 17th century and the Methodists a bit later – a school, a pub, a social club and a village hall that’s home to everything from bowls to bridge and from yoga to karate.

There are also working and reasonably maintained public toilets which, again let it inconveniently be asserted, is more than can be said for the whole of the town of Darlington.

What Hamsterley doesn’t have, or at least doesn’t have to any reasonable degree, is a scheduled bus service.

Two a day head towards Bishop Auckland; only one returns and that chiefly so that the older bairns get home safely for their tea.

Since last Friday evening’s plan is to attend a 7.30pm film show at the village hall – a chance finally to catch up with Bobby Robson: More than a Manager, the biopic in memory of one of the greatest men in football history – it seems prudent to look at alternatives.

THE Oxford Dictionary of Place Names records that “hamestra” was Old English for the corn weevil, “leah” simply being a grove or open plain.

The village website supposes the name still to be “amazingly” apt, “in view of the regular ravages that our gardens suffer from the voracious insects.”

They would certainly destroy the late spring crops, it adds, if the residents didn’t fight back.

This, of course, was early autumn and the Hamsterley horticulturists a bit more relaxed. As doubtless they’d agree in all three churches, sufficient unto the day is the weevil thereof.

SO the plan is to catch the ten past two bus into Darlington, the three o’clock thence to Crook, the 4 30pm Weardale Motor Services 101 from Crook to Wolsingham and to walk the six vertiginous miles over the top to Hamsterley through the fringe of the fearsome forest.

The lady counsels against accepting refreshment from strangers along the way, particularly if they live in a gingerbread house, wear a black pointy hat and have a big oven out the back.

This isn’t so much babes in the wood, however, as codgers among the conifers.

The No 1 to Crook is absurdly thronged, the 101 as cheerful and as dependable as ever. That everyone seems to know Weardale drivers by their first names may be because they all seem to be called Billy. It may be a condition of employment.

The walk gasps past Chatterley Farm, about which nothing will be said, past the Grade II listed Dryderdale Hall – home in the 1960s of Vincent Landa, supposed head honcho of the North-East’s one-armed bandit empire and subsequently a Get Carter location – and down to the tranquil hamlet of Bedburn, long the natural habitat of the often-spotted Dr David Bellamy.

This being a rural road in Co Durham, there are quite a lot of dead animals and an awful lotter litter.

A few years ago the Bellamy family moved up to Hamsterley itself. Now, it’s said, the magnificent Dr Bellamy, 85, is in a care home, visited daily by his wife.

As darkness descends, there are strange rustlings in the undergrowth, startled birds flapping overhead. It calls to mind not so much the Gruffalo – even the little granddaughters aren’t really scared of the Gruffalo – as the Wild Wood and the Wind in the Willows.

“The dusk advanced on him steadily, rapidly, gathering in behind and before; and the light seemed to be draining away like floodwater. Then the faces began….”

THE film’s flyer advises those attending to bring their own refreshment. Paul Dixon’s carrier bag clinks.

That he at once offers a bottle to the weary traveller may be explained a) because he’s a retired HSBC regional manager and b) because he’s originally from Shildon, where hospitality’s inbred.

The audience is just 10 – “from Etherley, Witton-le-Wear, all over,” says Simon Raine, the organiser. Another 20 years and they might have a room full, he adds.

Simon, good bloke and supposed Pep Guardiola lookalike, himself gave up a high-flying career in order to make Weardale Cheese in hut 16 at the former Harperley prisoner of war camp. It’s going well: where there’s a will there’s a whey.

The film’s brilliant, capturing in eye-opening interviews the universal affection and admiration in which Sir Bobby was held. If only, bless him, he didn’t go into such gory detail about his operations.

A couple in the village hall recall one of the two fund raising evenings, wholly without charge, which he did to help bail out Tow Law Town FC.

As ever, Sir Bobby had been loquacious, though endlessly entertaining. When finally the comedian got to his feet, most had gone home.

Bob stopped. “He’s only doing his job. He deserves our support,” he said.

Occasional darker moments include media interest in his private life – “the press were barbaric,” says Lady Elsie – but mostly the story’s told with a smile.

“He was always trying to find a reason to be happy,” says Jose Mourinho, his former assistant at Barcelona, and even old Jose smiles, a bit.

Or maybe it was just the indigestion.

AS England manager he’d been very much less than happy about the hellish Hand of God – “”raging, absolutely raging, I’d never seen him like that before,” says Gary Lineker – though Sir Bobby quickly calmed down again.

“He said it was the hand of God. I said it was the hand of a rascal, and I was right.”

Alan Shearer talks of Bobby’s time as manager of Newcastle United – “”the dressing room was broken, only Sir Bobby could have saved the club” – Lady Elsie of his doleful departure from St James’ Park.

“He was very heartbroken when he was guillotined. He didn’t recover from that very quickly at all.”

Sir Alex Ferguson recalls how his fellow knight never forgot his fetchings up, though those may not have been his exact words; an emotional Gazza – “Sir Bobby thought I was the dog’s bollocks” – remembers a mutual love affair.

“I guarantee if you mentioned any player in the world, he’d tell you what he’d had for breakfast. I felt safe with Sir Bobby.”

The film lasts 90 minutes or so, after which there’s a bit of a discussion before we head to the social club for a swift one. A chap at the bar is so incredulous about the walk on the wild side that he insists on getting the beers in. It’s been a very good night.