If you want to witness a little contemporary London fascination, then a visit to the Rolling Bridge in Paddington Basin is an absolute must. Whether you choose to define it as art or architecture, the Rolling Bridge offers a magic of its own at midday every Friday, which tourists and locals can’t help but be enchanted by. At just 16 minutes’ walk from The Portman, the Rolling Bridge makes an exciting attraction to visit on your way to The Portman for lunch.
About the Rolling Bridge
Conceived by Thomas Heatherwick, a British designer, the Rolling Bridge is a bridge which spends most of its time literally curled up in an octagon, resembling an intricate modern art sculpture, at the side of an inlet of the Grand Union Canal. However, at noon each Friday, the bridge uncurls itself and its eight triangular sections straighten out right across the inlet, to provide bridge access to the other side.
What You’ll Find
The Rolling Bridge was created in 2004 for the grand development of the Grand Union Canal office and retail project, to provide a pedestrian bridge across an inlet of the canal itself. The innovative design of individual triangular parts, along with concealed hydraulic cylinders means that the bridge can literally curl up to let boats through the inlet, or remain curled down to allow pedestrians a safe path across the water.
Such innovation, a real alternative to the more popular shifting of rigid parts of traditional raising bridges, has quickly led to the bridge having a real novelty factor with locals and visitors as well as having a design prestige for the implementation of its hydraulic mechanism for curling and retracting. As such, this bridge won the British Structural Steel Design Award in 2005 and an Emerging Architecture award.
The bridge is an interesting attraction for anyone who likes architecture, engineering and design or who might appreciate the gentle artistry and even choreography of watching this magnificent structure curl and uncurl itself.
It’s also fascinating for children, many of whom might be familiar with it from the BBC’s popular learning zone, which features the bridge as one of its video clips for learning, or who might enjoy learning about it online before seeing it in action.
The canal side offers plenty of space to stand and watch the bridge’s action, including a covered canal path area for watching out of the rain as necessary.
The Rolling Bridge is located in a public area so is not subject to opening hours. However, the curling or “opening” of the bridge takes place at noon on Fridays.
Locating the Rolling Bridge
Although hand-held GPS on a phone or tablet tends to be reliable for helping to locate the bridge, many visitors can find it quite difficult to find. The easiest way is to take bearings from the hard-to-miss Paddington Station, then:
- Locate the Praed Street exit and go onto the street.
- From Praed Street, take an immediate left turn into South Wharf Road. This way, you’re following along the edge of the station, at a higher level.
- A short way along and around the corner, South Wharf Street turns right and you’ll need to take a left, following a cobbled path towards the canal.
- Look for blue signs offering directions to Paterson Cabin and The Bays and follow in that direction.
- Keep following the same path for approximately two minutes until you reach the end of those buildings.
- By now you should be at the canal and close to a white footbridge over the canal.
- Go up the steps and over the canal. Come down the steps on the other side, not the slope.
- Continue to follow the canal path around the corner and you should be able to see the rolled up bridge before you reach the end of the canal basin.
Timing it Right
The curled up bridge will only uncurl at midday every Friday and the whole process takes just under ten minutes. Local chatter states that often, when the weather is bad, it seems to take place slightly earlier and seem quicker, so aim to get there before midday, so that you can be sure of a good view and of seeing the whole impressive process!