The Dabbler ventures into the exciting world of travel blogging in the company of Anne Ward, the mastermind behind the remarkable Nothing to See Here blog and now the author of a Nothing to See Here book, subtitled A Guide to the Hidden Joys of Scotland. (Incidentally, it’s published by Pocket Mountains where you can find even more wonderful trip ideas).
We start with a visit to a factory that occupies a very sweet spot in Scotland’s cultural heritage.
Tunnock’s dominates the town of Uddingston, 7 miles southeast of Glasgow. For more than 100 years, the family firm has been pumping out their trademark Tea Cakes, Caramel Wafers and other delights for the pleasure of Scotland’s sweet-toothed populace. Tunnock’s products are such a part of Scottish heritage that they’ve followed expatriates round the world, winning them the sort of global following that most brands would kill for.
Established in 1890 by Thomas Tunnock, their products haven’t changed much over the years, with their distinctive sunburst packaging and slightly wonky lettering. In a world that’s constantly changing, there’s something very reassuring about that. Traditionally, they’re a bit of an old-person’s snack, but that association with a trip to your granny’s means that from an early age each bite of Tunnock’s is imbued with more than just sugary satisfaction.
In Uddingston, their ‘Daylight’ bakeries loom large on one side of the main street, while the Tunnock’s Tea Rooms nestle among a row of shops on the other. The Tea Rooms are a delight for any Tunnock’s lover, or indeed anyone with a sweet tooth. As well as a range of rare Tunnock’s biscuits (Wafer Crème, Coconut Meringue, Florida Wafer – all delicious) there are spectacular cakes, pies and loaves. At the back there is a café, not the most attractive of places, but still a cheap and cheerful place to refuel.
While you eat/shop, there are constant reminders of the glory of Tunnock’s. The staff have a caramel wafer shaped patch sewn onto their aprons, the counter is covered in miniature Tunnock’s vans, the walls are lined with old adverts and then there are the window displays – oh boy, the window displays. Inhabiting the windows is a family of anthropomorphic creatures with bodies made from Caramel Logs, Tea Cakes and other Tunnock’s paraphernalia. They are fantastically bizarre – a sign of genius, or madness. It’s hard to tell which.
Across the road the factory is impossible to miss. There’s a giant illuminated Caramel Wafer on the front, and a Tea Cake clock. Understatement really isn’t their bag. Outside, the air smells of roasted coconut; the experience is pure Willy Wonka. Getting inside is just as difficult, but it is possible although be prepared to wait up to 18 months for a place on the factory tour.
Like everything else Tunnock’s-related, the factory has a slightly surreal air. The tour starts in the Snowball Department where mallow is piped down from the floor above and everything is manufactured, wrapped, boxed and made ready for shipping. Their wonderful packaging sits on huge rollers in a variety of languages, with Arabic the most prevalent. Strangely the Middle East is their biggest export market, possibly due to the number of Scots who go to work in the oil industry there. They also have friends in high places – the Sultan of Brunei’s wife is such a fan that she came over with her entourage for a look round.
Whether you go for the full factory tour, visit the Tea Rooms or merely eat a Tea Cake in the comfort of your own home, every experience is a feast for the senses. As their slogan says “You can’t top Tunnock’s”. Truly, they are one of Scotland’s national treasures.
Access and opening times
Thomas Tunnock Limted, 34 Old Mill Road, Uddingston, Glasgow G71 7HH.
The Tunnock’s Tea Rooms are open 6 days from Monday-Saturday.
If you’d like to discover more hidden joys of Scotland why not buy Anne’s handy, pocket-size book here?