There's something romantic about lighthouses. Their location at the water's edge, their role in saving lives, and the quirky shape of the accommodation all appeal to our adventurous side.
The practicalities of living in one as a home can, however, be daunting. Most traditional lighthouses are tall and narrow, putting a squeeze on even the smallest family, and due to their original function, they're usually in far-flung parts of the coast, with a long drive to the nearest amenities.
Which is why West Usk Lighthouse is so unusual. Built in 1821, between Newport and Cardiff, this friendly looking lighthouse stands on open farmland at the water's edge, overlooking the spot where the rivers Severn and Usk reach the sea. Decommissioned since 1922, it feels nicely remote without being cut off, and is large enough to become an enchanting family home - if not a thriving business.
To Frank and Danielle Sheahan, who have owned the property for 20 years, it has been both. The couple bought the derelict building as an escape from London in the late 1980s, and spent four years restoring it into a cosy home and B&B. "We were looking for change and challenge," says Frank, "and the lighthouse offered both."
The circular building comprises two levels of accommodation, with each floor divided into eight wedge-shaped rooms radiating off a wide, stone spiral staircase. The ground floor is where the couple and their two sons live, and includes the kitchen, lounge, dining room, bathroom and study. On the first floor, there are four en-suite guest rooms, while the second storey features a large terrace right round the circumference of the building, fitted with decking and a bar. Crowning the building is the glass-panelled lantern room, restored in 1997 by the couple for £50,000.
The lighthouse stands in just under an acre of grounds, which includes the garden, the raised sea-wall with seating area, and a car park. There are also several outbuildings, one of which has a kitchen and used to be run as a tea shop. Then there's a beach hut and a chalet containing a flotation tank (Danielle is a complementary therapist).
In other words, a lot of building with a lot of character and plenty of space. "It's wonderful living here," says Danielle. "Like a piece of heaven, you can do what you like, be as loud as you like. There are no neighbours to upset!"
She adds that it is also the perfect spot for children, and hers have been "privileged to grow up here". As a result of their home's star quality, Brodie, 12, and Jed, 15, have appeared in magazines, been on television, and are popular at school - just some of the perks of having an unusual home. The property has even appeared in a Halifax advertising campaign and, according to Frank, would make a great film or television location.
The B&B business is thriving and the couple says that every weekend and around 50 per cent of week nights are booked throughout the year. With room prices from £85-£100 per night, they pull in approximately £58,000 per annum, but say that they don't chase business and often even turn it away. Frank thinks that if they took all the business they were offered, they could quite easily double their income.
"Lots of people dream of getting married in a lighthouse," he says. "Almost every week, people call to ask if they can hold their wedding or reception here. We're not interested in doing that, but for someone who wanted to push this business forward, weddings are definitely the way to go." Courses, house parties and hen nights are other options that they have considered.
Realistically, anyone wanting to continue the B&B would need to invest in upgrading the guest accommodation, and might want to look into improving the condition of the shared access road. However, most of the internal work is cosmetic and, although the building is Grade II listed, that doesn't stop you altering the interior. According to Danielle, there are even grants on offer from the tourist board to help.
Externally, you should only need to paint the walls every three years. "You won't suffer from problems due to the elements because the building was built specifically to withstand them," explains Frank.
Aside from that, all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the spectacular view. The peaceful waterfront location, just a 20-minute drive from Cardiff, is hard to beat. And then, when the tide is in, the river fills up with sailing boats, motor launches and the odd tanker heading for the nearby docks. When the waters withdraw, they leave mudflats that attract all manner of birds.
Although the business prospects could be promising for those prepared to put in the necessary effort, the Sheahans think that the lighthouse would really suit an artist or a musician, looking for a quirky home away from the crowds.
"There's an inspiring air of mystery, almost romance about this lighthouse," says Frank. "And it was built for a noble cause - to save lives."
Get the spec
What's for sale? Sixteen-room Victorian lighthouse, including four en-suite guest rooms, cellar, roof terrace, lantern room in an acre of grounds with river views.
Serious Kit: Historic building with circular stone and iron-work staircase and added features such as cast-iron fireplaces in keeping with the original structure. Recently refurbished lantern room that incorporates a new lighting system. The price also includes a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, furniture, a hot tub and a flotation tank.
How big? 3,600sq ft.
Buy it: West Usk Lighthouse, £950,000, Unique Homestays (01637 881942; www.uniquehomestays.com)Reuse content