"John Noble, the founder of Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd, known as Johnny, was my uncle. He inherited the Ardkinglas Estate in the 1970s and was faced with large debt levels resulting from inheritance tax and other issues. He grew up at Ardkinglas but had spent his working life as a Banker and more successfully as a Wine Merchant. He was determined to keep the Estate going and people employed. After several attempts to find new sources of income for the area, a marine biology student living on the Estate (Andy Lane) suggested he tried Oyster farming as he was convinced oysters would grow well on the shore at Loch Fyne.
"After a few false starts (oysters dying due to being contaminated by anti-foulant paint, Bank Managers laughing them out of the room, British Rail refusing to transport 'livestock'), Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd was born and has gone on to become an employer of over 150 people and develop a worldwide reputation for the quality of its seafood.
"As Oysters took at least three years to grow, the cash wasn't flowing very fast in the early days, and the addition of a smokehouse producing smoked salmon provided a much quicker return and has become the main product for the company, but the Oyster always remains the cream on the top. Johnny went on to found Loch Fyne Restaurants, which had 40 sites across the country, continuing a wine business and starting the tree Shop next to the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Sadly, Johnny died of cancer just before his 65th Birthday. Andy stayed with the company while it went into a period of Employee Ownership; he then relocated to Cornwall.
"The Employee Ownership model ran into difficulties during the Recessions around 2008-10 and passed into private ownership, where it remains to this day, still employing large numbers and making a significant contribution to the economy of the area. Johnny's contribution to the Cairndow area transformed it from a place with few jobs, a dwindling population, and little ambition to a thriving, forward-thinking community that punches well above its weight given its small population.
This personal reflection was contributed by Virginia Sumsion, the niece of John Noble. You can find out more about Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd via their website
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