The son of Charles Philip Coate, an expatriate businessman, Randoll Coate was born in Lausanne, Switzerland. After studying at the Collège de Lausanne he won a scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, reading French and German. In 1940 he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps, using his language abilities to interrogate prisoners of war in the "London Cage". He also took part in Operation Archery, a commando raid on port Vågsøy, Norway and helped support Greek resistance fighters in liberating Kalamata.
After the war, Coate joined the UK Foreign Office with diplomatic postings to Salonika, Oslo, Leopoldville, Rome, The Hague, Buenos Aires, Stockholm and finally Brussels at which point he took early retirement in 1967.
Having had a long-standing interest in art and history, Coate took to designing mazes and completed over 50 new mazes in Britain and around the world. Coate's maze designs are particularly noted for their symbolism. Although it is rarely possible to see a large maze in plan view, Coate's designs would often incorporate hidden shapes and references of significance to the clients who had commissioned the maze.
Coate's first maze commission, The Imprint of Man, was completed in 1975 for a private garden at Lechlade Mill in Gloucestershire. The overall outline was of a giant footprint 57 m long by 29 m wide — a size calculated to match the size of a 300-m tall person, matching the height of the Eiffel Tower. The hedge maze, constructed from 3,000 yew bushes, ended up too large for its intended field. Coate's solution was to extend the maze into the adjacent river, creating an artificial island for the second toe. The intricate design incorporated 132 symbols, including numbers, signs of the zodiac and animals, birds and fishes. Some of his other notable mazes include;
- Pyramid (1977) — yew hedge maze in the form of a pyramid at the Château de Belœil, Belgium, in which the height of the hedges increases to reach 6 m at the centre
- Creation (1979) — yew hedge maze at Värmlands Säby, Sweden, for the Baroness of Falkenberg, with overlapping layers of symbolism. Seen one way, the egg-shaped outline represents the Garden of Eden incorporating figures for Adam, Eve, the Serpent and the apple. Seen another way, the hedge outlines form the shape of the horned Minotaur of the original Minoan labyrinth.
In 1979, Coate was introduced to Adrian Fisher, another enthusiastic maze designer. Shortly afterwards Coate and Fisher formed the maze design company Minotaur Designs and designed 15 mazes together between 1979 and 1989, (some with the landscape architect Graham Burgess in 1983 and 1984). These included:
- Archbishop's Maze (1980) — a brick path and turf maze at Greys Court, England, incorporating Christian symbolism to commemorate the maze metaphor that Robert Runcie mentioned in his enthronement address on becoming Archbishop of Canterbury
- Beatles Maze (1984) — brick path and water-channel maze at the first National Garden Festival, Liverpool, England, featuring an 18-ton, 15.5-m long sculpture of a yellow submarine at its centre, and with an outline in the shape of an apple, in reference to The Beatles' Apple Corps record label
- Bath Festival Maze (1984) — a stone path in Beazer Gardens near the Pulteney Bridge, Bath, England, celebrating the city of Bath with motifs based on Georgian fanlights, arches from Isambard Kingdom Brunel's railway and a Roman-inspired mosaic circle at its centre
- Marlborough Maze (1988) — a yew hedge maze at Blenheim Palace for the Duke of Marlborough and based on a stone carving by Grinling Gibbons representing the "Panoply of Victory", with a symbolism based on cannons, banners and trumpets.
- Sun Maze and Lunar Labyrinth (1996) — Longleat, near Bath, England, for the Marquess of Bath (who has another four mazes in the grounds of the house)
- Lappa Valley Railway Maze — yew hedge at the Lappa Valley Steam Railway, Cornwall, England, shaped like an early steam locomotive
- El laberinto de Borges (Borges Memorial Maze) — San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina, box hedge maze, measuring 95 m by 65 m, in memory of the writer Jorge Luis Borges (a personal friend of Coate's), inspired by his short story "El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan" (English: "The Garden of Forking Paths"). Shaped like an open book, the design incorporates, in Braille, a quotation from the blind writer, that a book and a labyrinth are "one and the same".
- The same design of the Borges Memorial Maze was used to build another one in the city of Venice, near the basilica of San Marcos, at San Giorgio Magiore´s gardens
- Alice in Wonderland Maze 1991, Dorset
- Ziggurat Maze Moray, Scotland
- Ariel Maze Jersey
- Pommerie Maze Shropshire
In 1955, Coate married the painter, Pamela Dugdale Moore, with whom he raised two daughters. He was also made a Chevalier of the Ordre de Léopold in 1965 and appointed a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) in 1966.
- Coate, R; Mont Athos, la Sainte Montagne (Arthaud, 1949)
- Fisher, Coate and Burgess; A Celebration of Mazes (1984) ISBN 0-948265-85-X.
- Obituary by Adrian Fisher, The Independent, 14 January 2006, p43.
- Obituary in The Times, retrieved 6 February 2006.
- Obituary in The Telegraph, retrieved 4 February 2006.
- viatraveldesign, retrieved 4 February 2006.
- Mazes by Minotaur article,retrieved 4 February 2006.
- Borges labyrinth, retrieved 6 February 2006.
- Borges labyrinth, with picture (Spanish)
- Adrian Fisher & Georg Gerster; The Art of the Maze, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (1990) ISBN 0-297-83027-9
- Jeff Saward; Magical Paths, Mitchell Beazley (2002) ISBN 1-84000-573-4
- Mazemaker.com — The website of Adrian Fisher's current maze design company incorporates a portfolio of past projects, including photographs and descriptions of mazes created in partnership with Coate