WORK EXPERIENCE: Our reporter gets to grips with running a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse

Argus reporter Francesca Gillett tries her hand with work experience in a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse in St Bride's. Pictured changing the bed linen is Francesca with Ya Qin the house keeper. (9352099)

Argus reporter Francesca Gillett tries her hand with work experience in a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse in St Bride's. Pictured changing the bed linen is Francesca. (9352101)

Argus reporter Francesca Gillett tries her hand with work experience in a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse in St Bride's. Pictured is Francesca with clean towels for the Sleigh Room en-suite. (9352109)

Argus reporter Francesca Gillett tries her hand with work experience in a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse in St Bride's. Pictured is Francesca cleaning the shower in the Sleigh room en-suite. (9352113)

Argus reporter Francesca Gillett tries her hand with work experience in a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse in St Bride's. Pictured is Francesca in the Lantern Room of the lighthouse. (9352122)

Argus reporter Francesca Gillett tries her hand with work experience in a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse in St Bride's. Pictured is Francesca with a telescope on the gantry platform of the lighthouse. (9352133)

Argus reporter Francesca Gillett tries her hand with work experience in a B&B at the West Usk Lighthouse in St Bride's. Pictured is Francesca stepping out of a authentic Dr Who Police box on the lighthouse roof garden area. (9352141)

First published in News by

The work never ends when running a B&B as FRAN GILLETT discovered when she spent a morning at West Usk Lighthouse.

“People can always find a reason not do something.” Those were the words which prompted Frank Sheahan to give up his top London job and buy a semi-derelict lighthouse on the mouth of the River Usk.

Fast forward 27 years and the former falling-to-bits West Usk Lighthouse, in St Brides, is now fully restored and running as a unique and cosy bed and breakfast hotel and wedding venue.

Mr Sheahan, 62, and his wife, Danielle, were fed up of the daily commute to work and had always toyed with the idea of opening a guesthouse.

Mr Sheahan said: “Danielle, who comes from Mauritius, loves the water and the coast.

“She spotted the lighthouse for sale and we came up from London to have a look. It was so quiet we could hear the cows munching grass in a few fields away.

“We thought it would be too much work to restore, but my hobby was always DIY so we decided to make the move.”

Mr and Mrs Sheahan bought the lighthouse in 1987 and, after an intense restoration project, now live there with their two sons and dog, Archie. The couple spend their days running the guesthouse for the almost-continuous stream of guests.

The pair welcomed me into the lighthouse on a weekday morning to go behind the scenes and discover just how much work goes into the day-to-day running of the guesthouse.

Mr Sheahan said: “It’s a seven-day week job. I get up at 6.30am every day to prepare the breakfast. At the moment we have eight people in so preparations do take a while.”

Mr Sheahan said only the finest quality breakfast items are provided, but he would like to get more locally-sourced products.

He said: “In the past we’ve kept our own chickens but the mink have always had their way with them. But people love our breakfasts.”

After breakfast and check out, which happens at 11am, I joined Ya Qin, the West Usk Lighthouse’s cleaner, to refresh the rooms.

The bed and breakfast boasts four unique, nautical-themed rooms, from the spacious Waterbed room to the more cosy Cabin room with the four poster bed.

Ya Qin, who was born in China, was methodical in her cleaning of the rooms and it was clear I had a lot to learn.

My own bed-making skills did not cut the mustard as I learnt Ya Qin’s very specific way of folding the duvet into the cover, which she said she had been taught by her own mother.

But Mr Sheahan said the challenges of running the lighthouse, which has seen more than 20 marriage proposals under its roof, are far more than just manual work.

“Having a smile on your face all the time and having your energy levels up is a challenge. You’ve got to be a people person and guests have to like you.

“We do have a bit of a laugh and banter and you can’t take yourself too seriously.”

The father to 24-year-old Jed and Brodie, 20, also had some interesting stories to tell about his 27-year stint as a bed and breakfast owner.

In September 2004 a 61-foot and 40-tonne whale washed up onto the beach outside the lighthouse, and despite best attempts to rescue the animal, it sadly had to be taken away in pieces.

The bed and breakfast certainly prides itself on its niche and unique feel. Aside from the building itself, it is clear the owners are Doctor Who fans, as a signed Dalek, purchased from the BBC, sits under the stairs while a Tardis acts as a changing room for the hot tub.

Mr Sheahan also has a Rolls Royce which he uses to provide a chauffeur service for guests to drop them off for an evening meal.

Although he says business did not take a downturn when the financial crisis hit, he said the optional and luxury extras did take a hit.

Mr Sheahan said: “We have noticed a real decline with guests coming in and ordering champagne and therapies like massages, for example.

“But we have generally been lucky because it’s a niche market.”

The 180-year-old lighthouse, a Grade II listed building, also became a licensed wedding venue two years ago, and the couple have opened the doors to 19 marriages to date, and are keen to keep bookings coming.

As well as the day-to-day running of the hotel, with wife Danielle looking after finance and bookings, the bed and breakfast also employs a gardener – a Druid who has added his own little stone circle to the surroundings.

Restoration work also never stops on the building, which because of its position on the coast, gets a beating from the weather.

The future is bright for the bed and breakfast, with their increasing numbers of wedding bookings rolling in, while the guesthouse has also been placed on Newport’s version of the monopoly board, which is yet to be released.

For the pair at the West Usk Lighthouse, it is clear their 27 years of running the bed and breakfast has been more than just a job – and, despite the hard work, a perfect escape from the life of a commuter.

Comments (1)

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1:15am Sat 23 Aug 14

crazyaunty says...

Isn't this the same place that had a makeover from Alex polizzi _the hotel inspector a few years ago. I believe she concentrated on the lamp room at the top of the lighthouse
Isn't this the same place that had a makeover from Alex polizzi _the hotel inspector a few years ago. I believe she concentrated on the lamp room at the top of the lighthouse crazyaunty
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