In the Paddington Basin of the Grand Union Canal in London there is a bridge that is usually curled up into an octagon but unfurls once a week for visitors to admire - and cross over.
Paddington Rolling Bridge
This is the Heatherwick Studio's Rolling Bridge. It was commissioned in 2004 as a footbridge for local workers and residents to cross over and allow boats to moor in the inlet.
We usually think of a bridge as a straight rigid structure but this one actually spends most of its life curled up next to the inlet looking nothing like a bridge.
Once a week, at around midday on Fridays, two members of staff from Paddington Waterside Partnership bring the controls to operate the bridge. Sometimes they have a little audience and sometimes they don't, but they always come.
The bridge opens and closes via a system of hydraulics fitted into the balustrade. It's a beautiful thing to watch as it appears so graceful for something that is so functional. The bridge can be stopped at any point of the 'curl' but generally, there's no need and the operator will only stop it when fully open or fully closed.
When fully open the bridge crosses the inlet and people are allowed to walk over so do run around and try it. It's very stable for such a temporary structure. Once it's been used for a few minutes, and there are no people trying to cross, the second member of staff blocks the way for safety (you can still walk around the canal path) and the bridge curls back up.
Paddington Rolling Bridge Directions
The Rolling Bridge at Paddington is wonderful to watch when it uncurls and becomes a bridge for just a few minutes once a week. But finding it can be tricky, even for locals, so here are some clear and simple directions to follow.
From Paddington station look for the Praed Street exits. Both the tube and train station have signs for this main road.
Once on Praed Street, take the first immediate left turn onto South Wharf Road. This follows the edge of the station (at a higher level).
Just around the corner, you need to leave the road (where South Wharf Street turns right) and take a left turn along a cobbled path towards the canal. Look for the blue sign, as seen here on the top right, directing you to "Paterson Cabin" and "The Bays". Turn onto the path and you'll see the blue sign pictured here on the top left. The cobbled path can be seen in the bottom left picture.
Walk along this path to the end of these buildings, which is no more than two minutes, and you'll reach the canal and see the white footbridge over the canal, pictured in the bottom right image. Go up the steps and over the canal and come down the steps, not the slope.
Follow the canal path around the corner (you can only go one way) and before you reach the end of the canal basin you'll see the rolled up bridge on the other side of an inlet. Do note, it doesn't roll across the canal but over the inlet which has a canal path around the edge so you can walk around it when the bridge is not in use.
The bridge uncurls at midday every Friday and the whole process - opening and closing - takes under 10 minutes so don't be late! It's really worth getting there early as it's sometimes just finishing at midday, especially if the weather is unpleasant. There is a canal path area where you can shelter from the rain so don't be put off by bad weather as it's fun to watch.
Alternative Route: You can access the top of the canal basin further up Praed Steet. Opposite Tune Hotel Paddington, by the junction with South Wharf Road, there's access to the canal basin next to Superdrug, and by the Tesco Express on South Wharf Road.
Little Venice: You can also follow these directions to reach Little Venice. When you reach the canal do not go up the steps and cross over but instead stay on the canal path and follow the canal for around 10 to 15 minutes.