Calum Henderson reviews Amazing Spaces: Shed of the Year and likes what he sees.

Roy James from the Isle of Sheppey in Northern Kent can tell you the exact distance it takes to complete a lap of his shed.

"The walk right round is 300 foot," he informs impressed - or maybe just polite - host George Clarke in the first episode of Amazing Spaces: Shed of the Year.

It's not a detail you would expect most shed owners to know, but then Roy is not most shed owners. He is one of the United Kingdom's elite 'sheddies', and he is the first contestant visited on this year's noble quest to find the best shed in Britain.

Roy's shed has gotten out of hand. Not in the 'World's Most Outrageous Hoarders' type of way we've become grimly accustomed to seeing on TV, but something equally obsessive - he's installed a 3000 foot model railway inside it.

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That seems like a lot of model railway. Maybe too much? But the track length on its own is the least remarkable thing about Roy's shed. It's more that he's built the entire city to go with it, with hundreds of houses and shops and details down to the cars on the roads and tiny miniature people on the footpaths.

It's a spectacular sight. George Clarke, a man you suspect has seen his share of spectacular sights hosting a show called Amazing Spaces for the last few years, can manage little more than a Justin Marshall-esque, "Wow!" when Roy throws open the door.

So vast has his miniature city grown, Roy has had to build himself a fully functioning control room, complete with multiple screens showing CCTV footage. "It looks just like a real railway station," Clarke marvels at a gritty black-and-white feed of one section of the track. "It's simply because I can't see all of it from this position," Roy replies sternly.

"This is just for you and your family isn't it, it's not open to the public?" "Oh," Roy laughs, "no." What is a shed if not a place to shut yourself off completely from the outside world.

The rules on what exactly constitutes a shed for the purposes of these awards seem extremely loose and very generous. This category, understatedly dubbed 'Normal Sheds', is ultimately won by a shed fitted with an outboard motor, which can be found patiently chugging down down the River Thames.

"I've never seen a floating shed before," admits co-host Will Hardie. Its owner, Cormac Hawkins, is a middle-aged man cheerfully living the life of a Wind in the Willows character. "The sound of lapping water, the faint smell of petrol and the sun beating down..."

He's never happier than when he's pootling about in his shed boat made of old decking and buoyed by old metal barrels. And he seems genuinely delighted when 'Maid of Dekkin' (very good) is announced the Normal Shed of the Year, as voted by members of the shed-loving public.

He will face stiff competition for the grand prize from the winners of the other eight categories. That includes Tracy Lewis - one of the few women sheddies in the competition, and winner of the Eco Sheds category for her Owl Shed on the Liverpool coast.

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Tracy's shed was built at the bottom of her garden, at the edge of the wonderfully gloomy Irish Sea, so that she could enjoy the views despite the lack of wheelchair access to the beach. Made for £2000 out of scavenged bottles and recycled wood, and with big, round windows like an owl's eyes, it might be the most serene, relaxing shed in the world.

It beats out an elegant geodesic dome, a painstakingly hand-constructed bothy deep in the Scottish Highlands, and a rammed earth shed in which its owner builds wooden bicycles ("You don't make things easy for yourself, do you?") for the Eco Shed title, and fair enough.

According to George Clarke - and who are we to doubt him? - there are approximately 16 million sheds in the United Kingdom. But how many are there in New Zealand? How many caravans, baches, rumpus rooms?

If we can take one thing from Shed of the Year, it's that you can stick an '...of the Year' on the end of just about anything and spin it into a gentle and mildly enjoyable prime time hit.

If we aren't watching New Zealand's inaugural Man Cave of the Year awards within the next 12 months, someone has seriously dropped the ball.

- nzherald.co.nz