Taking his own path: The world's leading maze designer

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Adrian FisherImage source, Adrian Fisher
Image caption,
Adrian Fisher sitting in one of his mirror mazes

Have you ever walked through a maze and wondered who makes them?

Adrian Fisher is the world's leading maze designer, having created more than 700 mazes across 32 countries since 1979.

"I really do love my job," says the 65-year-old. "It's like I'm a big kid, and creating things that people can play in all day long - who wouldn't want to do that?"

From his studio in Dorset, in south-west England, Mr Fisher has spent the past 38 years designing mazes in a wide variety of forms.

From classical hedge mazes, to vast maize mazes and mirror mazes full of special effects, he continues to be much in demand.

And there seems to be no job too small, or too outlandish, as his work ranges from tiny finger mazes that you can trace with a single digit, to an entire side of the 210m (689ft) tall Al Rostamani Maze Tower that was completed in Dubai in 2011.

But how do you ever become a maze designer? For Mr Fisher it was a lucky turn in the maze we all walk through in life.

Image source, Adrian Fisher
Image caption,
Hedge mazes have to be grown for a number of years before they can open

Mr Fisher first made a maze as a child, when he and his dad build one in their garden just for fun, but he "never thought it would turn into a career".

Instead he started his adult life working as an accountant, while designing mazes as a hobby.

His lucky break came aged 27 when he had a chance meeting with the late Lady Elizabeth Brunner, who said she wanted a maze built at her home Greys Court in Oxfordshire, which she had donated to the National Trust.

Mr Fisher managed to land the gig, and he co-designed and built the "turf maze", a paved path cut into grass, with fellow maze designer Randoll Coate.

From there Mr Fisher never looked back and he quit the world of accountancy.

His business Adrian Fisher Design has four permanent employees, with a further 15 people typically working with them at any given time, including illustrators, designers and builders.

Image source, Adrian Fischer
Image caption,
He designs everything from finger mazes to giant cornfield mazes

Over the past decade he says that modern technology and particularly the internet has made his job much easier.

"I work with animators in Spain and designers in Asia, and things like Skype make it so easy to feel like you're in the same room as them.

"This has really allowed me access to worldwide collaborators and markets including the US and [Asian cities such as] Kolkata, Shanghai and Yokohama.

"This gives us the flexibility to adjust production methods and timescales to suit each project. Also, local fabrication minimises import duties within our principal markets."

The cost of each maze varies greatly. A simple finger maze can be commissioned for just £100, but Mr Fisher's biggest projects, such as huge hedge mazes, will set you back more than £1m.

Image source, Adrian Fisher
Image caption,
Mr Fisher's mazes are installed around the world, such as this one in the Czech Republic

In addition to deep pockets, patience is also required, particularly for the hedge mazes, which can take years to grow before they can be used.

One such project, the Murray Star Maze at Scone Palace in Scotland, is made of beech trees which took seven years to grow into hedges of sufficient height.

Some 90% of Mr Fisher's business is overseas, and he says that so far the UK's decision to leave the EU has had a beneficial impact on his company.

"Brexit has been positive even in the short term, since with a keener pound we are winning more export deals."

Image source, Adrian Fisher
Image caption,
Mr Fisher works with designers and other workers around the world to make his creations

In terms of competitors, Mr Fisher says he has around 20. "But many of them just concentrate on one type of maze, and we do pretty much it all."

Mr Fisher has also built up his profile with some record-breaking exploits, and has held the world record for the world's largest cornfield maze no less than six times.

Earlier this year, his Butterfly Maze in Ningbo, China set the world record for the largest permanent hedge maze, with a total area of 33,565 sq m (8.3 acres) and total path length of 8.38 km (5.2 miles).

In addition he has written 12 books about mazes, and gives both after-dinner talks on the subject, and talks to design students.

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Design expert Ania Choroszczynska, founder of London-based Anya Fennet Design, says Mr Fisher has taken mazes to "new levels".

"They [Adrian Fisher Design] understand the scope of the industry and the demands of the consumer or client, and create designs that have had a great reaction," she says.

Image source, Adrian Fisher
Image caption,
Mr Fisher has held the record for the world's largest cornfield maze six times

With technology playing an increasing role in people's lives, does Mr Fisher feel that physical mazes will have a lasting future?

"We'll always have competition from new computer games etc, but nothing beats solving a real puzzle. Plus, it's a bonding experience as a group of people have to make choices and act together on the collective decision."

But if anyone has ever got lost in a maze and panicked, Mr Fisher can empathise. When his yew tree maze opened at Leeds Castle in Kent in 1988 he was leading a royal party including Princess Alexandra (a cousin of the Queen) around when he couldn't find his way out.

"Unfortunately since my previous visit the head gardener had closed a gap in one place," he says. "With such confidence I led them into the maze but then got us all stuck. Thankfully I got us all out of there though.

"Somehow I managed to regain my composure and say it was so difficult a puzzle that even a maze designer could get lost."

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