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Nairnshire fruit farm stalwarts hand over reins of juicy business

By Federica Stefani

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Sylvia and James (centre) with new owner Will Downie (cutting the cake) and members of the Wester Hardmuir farm team.
Sylvia and James (centre) with new owner Will Downie (cutting the cake) and members of the Wester Hardmuir farm team.

A popular Nairnshire farm has had a change at the helm as its owners retired after almost 40 years in business.

James and Sylvia Clarke moved from near Tain to Wester Hardmuir Fruit Farm in 1986 when the latter went on sale.

From a one-and-a-half acre venture, the couple started offering more and more fruit and vegetables and has become a favourite for families and locals alike, who can come to the farm to pick their own locally-sourced greens.

Last week saw James and Sylvia’s official retirement, leaving the farm in the hands of Will Downie and Laura Stewart.

New owners Laura Stewart and Will Downie.
New owners Laura Stewart and Will Downie.

“It was the right time,” said Mrs Clarke. “We have some very good memories from the farm, but we felt it was time to step back. We can’t wait to finally have a summer off the farm!”

With more time on their hands, the couple – who have now moved back to Easter Ross – will be able to see children and grandchildren who live around the UK and as far as Canada.

Looking back at when they first started, James – whose father owned a farm near Tain – said: “When Wester Hardmuir Farm went on sale, we saw it as a good opportunity.

The farm has become popular among locals.
The farm has become popular among locals.

“Initially we put a few strawberries in – I wasn’t very keen at the idea at first, but then the business started going, followed by red fruits like redcurrants, then apples plums…and then veg and potatoes.

“We had a pretty basic shed to start with. Then we started picking your own and supplying wholesalers in this area.”

The farm’s popularity has been going from strength to strength over the years, attracting many seasonal workers from across Eastern Europe and also welcoming some from Ukraine more recently.

The popularity of the farm reached also the TV screens, with an episode of BBC’s Landward being filmed at Wester Hardmuir.

“I think this would be one of my highlights from my days at the farm,” said Mr Clark.

“The thing that I used to like the most is when you have a nice summer’s day, and the strawberries are about and there are loads of families around.”

Another highlight was when they installed an ice cream machine imported from New Zealand.

Mrs Clarke explained: “Our son used to live in New Zealand, and during a trip there we saw a machine that could make ice cream by adding freshly pressed fruit from the farm. We decided to introduce it and it was very successful. We have seen people in line for an hour or more to get their ice cream.”

However, their biggest thanks go to the community and their customers over the years.

“The public has been great, we had people coming from all over the UK and even from the Netherlands.

“We are leaving the farm in capable hands and we Will and Laura all the best.”

Will Downie will be taking over the farm alongside partner Laura Stewart.

He said: “We are absolutely delighted to be taking over the business. It’s really successful due to the hard work of James and Sylvia and they built a great reputation in the area, so we are very proud and happy.

“A lot of my family have worked here at summer jobs, we are neighbours of the farm! It’s a family-run farm and we are the fourth generation, so we were looking to expand.

“We want to keep providing the same fantastic level of fresh local produce which the farmers provided and then in the future build on this and develop the business further.”

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