The Dorset maze mage
Liam O’Hara meets Durweston's prolific maze designer Adrian Fisher.
Published in August ’16
It is no mystery what internationally renowned maze designer Adrian Fisher’s favourite place in the world is. ‘Dorset is the most beautiful county,’ he says, appreciating the fields that surround his Durweston home. ‘It’s a fantastically creative place. I definitely think settings help.’
The surroundings that Adrian admires certainly contribute to his status as the world’s foremost creator of mind-bending mazes. Fittingly, he’s a difficult man to find. Try and track Adrian down with a sat-nav and you get lost in the lanes of Durweston. Look back across the village towards the River Stour and you might spot a curious brick turret poking up from the landscape. This destination can be seen, but a route to it is not clear. Finding a way requires a bit of luck, a few three-point turns and the good nature of a knowledgeable local. Getting to Adrian Fisher is a bit of a labyrinth itself.
Once arrived, it’s clear why this perfect corner of Dorset has inspired Adrian to create close to 700 mazes across the globe, from Alnwick Castle to Kuala Lumpur. In many of these installations he uses natural materials, combining the organic with an astute use of mirrors and winding pathways to astound and confuse visitors. The mix of tall trees, hedges and sloping lawns seen from his office window suggest that his garden is no different. On the walls of the office hang seven Guinness World Records and evidence of two gold medals for garden design. ‘We get some very artistic guys come in from abroad and really imaginative discussions occur here’, he adds, convinced that Dorset also has an exciting future ahead as a high-tech, creative county.
Not only is Dorset a continued source of stimulation, it is also where his passion began. ‘I built my first maze in my Dad’s garden at Throop,’ Adrian remembers. ‘So I’ve lived on the River Stour, one way or another, since I was a boy and every month of the year it’s delightful.’ His home today not only boasts views of that same river but also hides a traditional hedge maze in its grounds. If visitors work out a way through the changeable gates or past the Minotaur sculpture to that large brick tower visible from the road, Adrian can delight in revealing the surprises inside. ‘We’re cast into complete darkness and then the lights shine,’ he says in hushed tones that reverberate around the tower. ‘Every wall is a mirror and what was a very small tower seems to go on forever.’ A few cranks of a cast-iron handle and light trickles in, revealing a staircase and fantastic views of the Stour Valley from the top of it. ‘There’s always something quite fun about a maze with a high viewpoint as a reward for the end of your journey,’ adds Adrian.
A maze for him is something both traditional and forward-thinking at the same time. It is an alternative form of family entertainment in the world of tablet screens and headphones. ‘A maze is an activity that you can do together with family and you then make choices. It means you all have to agree and do the same thing and you’ll discover things you couldn’t possibly have imagined – often about each other.’
It is this playful imagination that seems to be the secret of Adrian’s success. His designs also incorporate special effects, grottos, tunnels, bridges and waterfalls to create unique experiences in places close to home (such as Bournemouth’s Adventure Wonderland Park) and far afield (the Maze Tower in Dubai). ‘You don’t want to go and see the same thing everywhere,’ he maintains. ‘You must go to a particular maze and think, “This is the only one of these in the world.”’ Some of these unique creations include a claustrophobic labyrinth at Hamburg Dungeon and a rainforest mirror maze in Arizona, USA.
Adrian equates his design process to an art commission, with each maze project closely tied to the landscape and character of the client that requests it. ‘It’s like painting a portrait. Once I have a rapport going and a smile, then I can capture the idea that they really want’. Adrian forms these three-dimensional ideas in his head (‘It takes days to turn it into a plan so people know what you’re doing’) before creating rough models from sections and moveable elements amassed in his studio. Once designed, built and installed, Adrian might decide that ‘If we put two more of something in, it’ll be more fun.’ It is a very intricate process, one that matches the imagination of the man and the mazes he has built.
Although known for his innovation world-wide, Adrian also points out that his Durweston maze is continuing a rich tradition of labyrinths in the Dorset countryside. ‘There were some 200 sites for labyrinth and turf mazes across Southern England. They go back 1000 years or more,’ he reveals. These sites include Troy Town near Dorchester and the Pimperne Labyrinth. ‘They represented a journey, a path of life, a thread of time from birth to death,’ muses Adrian. ‘The triangular design at Pimperne was unique. Nobody has seen its strange and wandering path before or since.’ Dorset’s famous poet, William Barnes, studied such sites in the late 1800s and wrote of the Mizmaze at Leigh, near Sherborne: ‘The maze paths were sundered by banks, and overspread nearly an acre of ground; but it was entirely destroyed by the plough about 1780.’
Nothing like that looks set to end Adrian’s hedge maze and tower any time soon. Contemplating from the top of his tower on whether to add a hedgerow alongside a newly installed fence, Adrian jokes about the county he has lived in and loved since a young boy. ‘If you don’t appreciate Dorset’, he laughs, ‘the best way to maximise the sum of human happiness is to leave Dorset, allowing someone who does appreciate it to replace you.’
It really is no mystery at all what Adrian Fisher’s favourite place in the world is.