If you’ve heard of the village of Wool recently, it’ll most likely be because PETA, the animal rights organisation, asked it to rename itself Vegan Wool. In a letter to members of the parish council, PETA explained that there’s a huge, horrible pile of evidence of shearers being unconscionably cruel to sheep, and – wait a minute! What if – what if – PETA KNEW that Wool’s name is in fact derived from an Old English word for a well? What if the whole object of the exercise, which in no possible world was ever going to result in the village renaming itself, was merely to gain publicity?
What if the press were the true lambs of this tale, pinned down by PETA, our journalistic fluff brutally scissored off to serve their ends? What if this proudly independent daytripping column, unbowed by fear, unmoved by favour, had been… fleeced?
On the other hand, we thought, maybe this feeling of being utterly used might open a hack’s jaded eyes to the plight of farm animals, while also providing a peg for visiting this formerly little-known Dorset village. Maybe Wool might make good material after all.
I arrived on a cold day. It was soon apparent that there was little to do within a walkable radius of the station. The centre of the village has two pubs, a couple of takeaways and a handful of unpretentious shops.
Like the fabric after which it is definitely not named, Wool is generally more functional than beautiful. This means that, when people come here, it’s often to get to and from somewhere else. Every summer, there’s a sudden burst of backpacked festivalgoers, who are heading southwards to Bestival. For the rest of the year, visitors tend to fill their bellies and petrol tanks before or after their trips to the tank museum, which is two miles to the north-west, the monkey zoo, which is a mile and a half to the north, or Clouds Hill, Lawrence of Arabia’s cottage retreat, also within a short drive.
If they stayed here for any length of time, those fleeting daytrippers would notice how peaceful this place is. There are quiet, boggy fields to walk in, and up the road there’s a wellness retreat on the site of a ruined abbey. Nobody even seemed to mind the PETA thing much. As a shopkeeper joked: “Wait till they hear about Hamburg!”
The Tank Museum has more than 300 tanks across six large halls, and an arena that hosts live shows. Family tickets £36 if booked online.
Monkey World is home to more than 250 rescued and endangered primates, including orang-utans, gibbons, chimpanzees and spider monkeys. Family tickets £38.
The country retreat of Laurence of Arabia
Clouds Hill is a former woodman’s cottage that became the home of T E Lawrence. Run by the National Trust, it’s closed for winter, but reopens on March 1. Family tickets £19.30.
Ruby’s Tea Room by the station is friendly and homely and its staff have lots of useful advice for enjoying an afternoon in Wool. They are patient with questions about the town renaming itself… and have a good vegan menu.
The Ship Inn and the Black Bear are both nice, which is fortunate, because they are the only pubs in town.
Bindon Abbey Wellness Retreat, which is in the countryside that surrounds Wool, does facials and massages and manicures and so on. Its buildings incorporate a ruined Cistercian abbey that features in Tess of the d’Urbervilles (as does Woolbridge Manor House, which is privately owned but visible from the bridge).