Offbeat Video

By Kim Reader


A dad-of-two has spent four months working tirelessly to build a glass dome the size of a GARAGE for his pampered tortoises – and it looks just like the Crystal Maze.

Pic by Mercury Press

Those visiting Paul Gordon’s garden could easily be fooled into thinking they had been dropped straight onto the set of the hit game show, which has recently returned to Channel 4.

But instead of contestants grasping for gold and silver tickets, this Crystal Maze is home to two Sulcata tortoises reaching for their fruit and veg.

Paul, 42, spent 10 hours every day learning carpentry and laying concrete by hand to construct the heated habitat for nine-year-old reptiles George and Mozart, who are used to warmer climates.

The geodesic dome, which cost £3,500, now provides a luxurious home for the loved pets and a space that the dad, his wife Nina Santini and their daughters Tiggy Gordon and Lula Gordon can use to hang out.

Pic by Laura Dale/Mercury Press

Former automotive engineer Paul from Newport Pagnell, Bucks, said: “The tortoises lived in the house originally.

“We were told they wouldn’t need to be moved outside until they were 15 but they grew so quickly. Eventually they’ll each be the size of a large coffee table.

“I kept having to remake their enclosure every six months and before we knew it they’d taken over an entire room.

“But they were getting too big for the room as well and had started scratching at the wall a bit. It would get very dusty and smelly even with me cleaning it every day.

“It was cruel to keep them indoors for any longer so I started looking into outdoor enclosures.

“I thought I’d just buy a shed or build a brick enclosure and insulate it because George and Mozart need their habitats to be at about 20 degrees all year round. But heating a structure like that was going to cost a fortune.

Pic by Laura Dale/Mercury Press

“I started doing research into these geodesic domes and found plans for a dome greenhouse. I was determined to build it all from scratch to keep the costs down but I had to learn so much.

“I had never done any carpentry before, I didn’t even have all the right tools. Mixing and laying the concrete by hand took ages. What would have taken a few hours with a machine, took 10 days.

“Every bit of wood needed cutting so accurately – just a millimetre out and it wouldn’t have gone together so I was being very cautious.

“I worked about 10 hours every day and it took me four and a half months. It was very hard work but definitely a labour of love.

“It’s the perfect home for George and Mozart – and it looks like the Crystal Maze. It only costs £15 a month to keep them warm and they’ve got a huge space to roam around in

Pic by Laura Dale/Mercury Press

While Paul never had pets growing up, 40-year-old singer Nina has always been an animal lover and came home from the pub one day five years ago and told her husband they were getting tortoises. But the dad has quickly warmed to the critters and says they make great pets for Tiggy, nine, and Lula, seven.

As well as discovering a love for tortoises, Paul has realised his passion for dome building and has since built another mini hideaway for his daughters.

Paul also longs to turn his hobby into a business as he thinks the structures would be the ideal off-grid home for first-time buyers and glamping.

Paul said: “My wife is the animal lover. I never had any pets growing up and I never really planned to. But Nina came home from the pub one day and said ‘I met some people and we’re getting tortoises’.

“I thought they would be the usual little ones but she explained they were going to be giant. I just went with it and it’s been great. They are such great pets.

Pic by Mercury Press

“We are all really dedicated to them. They live a great life in their dome. And I’m so glad I decided to build it.

“It was very hard work but brilliant fun. I absolutely loved creating something from scratch and I learnt so much.

“I have built several since including one for the kids to play in and another one that we use as a greenhouse.

“I can build one from start to finish in about a month now and I want to build so many more. Although getting planning permission might be tricky.

“I think they could be the ideal off grid home. They’re so cheap to build that they would be perfect for first-time buyers. You can even use them for glamping.”