The Tunnocks Factory, Uddingston

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?

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11 thoughts on “The Tunnocks Factory, Uddingston

  1. Worm
    February 27, 2012 at 09:27

    a pleasingly proustian tour to start the week with, looking forward to more of these. Tunnocks wafers were the only sweet I was allowed to eat as a child (along with the occasional illicit wagon wheel)

    a quick whiz over to wikipedia reveals the following Tunnock-themed morsels:

    The name tea cake is somewhat confusing as generally a teacake is taken to mean a sweet bread roll with dried fruit added to the mix, which is usually served toasted and buttered. A Tunnock’s Tea Cake bears no relation to this product.

    An individual wafer is devoid of a sell-by date.

    The distinctive cheeky face of the Tunnock’s Boy appears on nearly all Tunnock’s products. The boy is based on no one.

    February 27, 2012 at 11:18

    Brilliant! I often say that the way a building turns a corner is important, but here the corner has turned into an advertisement like few others. And those window displays: my goodness the teacakes bring it all back (yes, Worm, Proustian confectionery has nothing on this). Happy are the people of Uddingston, for they on caramel have fed and drunk the milk of paradise.

    • Gaw
      February 27, 2012 at 11:59

      Looking back, I do feel that the breaking of the teacake’s perfect but fragile chocolate dome – an irretrievable but necessary act of destruction – possessed some powerfully tragic symbolism. Proust, eat your heart out.

    February 27, 2012 at 11:18

    Hidden joys indeed Anne, Glasgow and its southerly environs, the tundra of the central belts western outer rim. Currently ringing with the plaintive cries of the lesser spotted McCoist. Rumours abound that David Murray asked Craig Whyte for payment in Tunnocks wafers, in a brown envelope, in exchange for a place at the trough.

    Classy velocipede, looks remarkably like a modified Rattrays Flying Scot, the Scots greatest design achievement of the nineteen fifties.

  4. Gaw
    February 27, 2012 at 11:49

    Lovely. I’m particularly enjoying the reinterpretation of a Vettriano work through the medium of caramel wafers (second photo down). I’d like to see more artworks recreated using appropriate confectionery.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:28

      Freud’s couch could tell a tale or two, about the associations with confectionery.

    February 27, 2012 at 17:35

    Anne, visited your blog and read the post on Gruinard Island, very good. We first came across the island in the late fifties when, because of lousy weather in Glenbrittle, we headed up north to attack Liathach, Beinn Eighe and points north, the roads incidentally, were all single track. The entire bay from Mellon Udrigle to the Dundonnell estate was fascinating, the bay is where many Atlantic convoys gathered, prior to the perilous crossing, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the German U boat packs, from the post office on Skye’s Loch Brittle, on the edge of the Minch, German could be heard at night, the submarines surfacing to recharge their batteries, Mary McDonald, the owner of the post office, not inclined to attack with mattock and shotgun. We had been told the story of Gruinard by the McDonalds and could see, from the beaches, the warning signs.
    Many years later, in the late eighties, guiding a party on the Shenavall trek and driving around the coast, leaving transport at the Dundonnell Hotel, the end of the trek, we noticed, from the road opposite Gruinard, white coated figures and piles of sacks, the big clean up.
    Mellon Udrigle, now with an eyesore of a caravan site, best given a wide berth.

    February 27, 2012 at 21:07

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Glad you enjoyed the visit.

    Malty – That’s interesting about Gruinard. I don’t think we made it to Mellon Udrigle (isn’t the beach supposed to be one of Scotland’s finest?) but I remember all the concrete gun emplacements on the road round to Aultbea. Definitely an interesting part of the world!

      February 28, 2012 at 10:08

      Anne, Mellon Udrigle, silver sand, views of the Western Isles and the Summer Isles (including Tanera Mor where Lucy Irving wrote her book ‘Castaway’, she is still there, beavering away at books) The vista includes unhindered views of manky dark green caravans, paradise lost.
      For me Achnahaird Beach is the ultimate, wild, windswept, stunning views inland (Suilven, seen over Lochinver, the Inverpolly hills including Stac Pollaidh) and at low tide, the ghostly skeletal remains of a Norwegian shipwreck. All of this could be appreciated while staying, virtually on the beach, at Scotland’s finest self catering farmhouse, the Mackenzies. This however may not now be an option, due to a serious illness within the owners family.

    February 28, 2012 at 01:12

    I used to know someone who lived across the street from the factory. Visited a few times. But never set foot inside the Mecca of snowballs and teacakes.

    February 28, 2012 at 07:24

    Not just in Scotland – here in Cornwall I occasionally, as if in a dream, find a packet of Tunnock’s in my shopping when I return from hunting and gathering at Tesco.

    The factory tour sounds worth waiting for. I am reminded of Stanley Windrush’s unfortunate experiences in I’m All Right Jack.

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