By James Somper
An engaged couple who spent one night in an historic hotel fell so in love with it that they gave up their high-flying jobs and decided to buy it.
James Sheehan and Zoe Carter, both 42, quit their successful London-based careers in advertising and digital marketing to buy the Milebrook House Hotel in Knighton, Powys, close to the Welsh border.
The three star hotel, which was formerly the home of explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, is set across three and a half acres of countryside in the picturesque Teme Valley and has formerly played host to esteemed guests from Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia to Mick Jagger.
The couple, from Islington, London bought the ten bedroom hotel for £677,000 despite having no prior experience in the hotel trade after a chance stay in November 2017 when Zoe’s mum, who lives in nearby Tenbury Wells, ran out of room to put them up.
The couple moved in on December 13 and had their first paying guest on December 14.
James said: “When we started I think I’d only pulled a pint once, but you quickly get used to it.
“It’s a dream come true, we didn’t imagine we’d actually get this place.
“Some of our friends said we were genuinely mad for wanting to take the hotel on.
“As we’ve found, the reality is 100 hour weeks and not being able to switch off.
“The phone goes every five minutes – there’s no downtime.
“Some of my friends call me Basil, after Basil Fawlty. Some of them have been really positive and others think we’re mad.
“We have never worked in hospitality before and only knew what it was like from the perspective of a paying guest so obviously there have been lots of surprises.
“But at the end of the day, we love what we’re doing and we couldn’t be happier.
“We wake up every morning and are full of energy and enthusiasm. We love it.”
The couple fell in love with the hotel following a one night stay in November 2017 after Zoe’s mum Rita ran out of room when she and James and visited for a weekend.
The ten bedroom hotel can sleep 22, has a restaurant which can sit 40 people, a bar, a lounge and landscaped gardens going down to the River Teme
Zoe said: “We came here one night after my mum ran out of space.
“I just thought it was so charming and lovely. It was like stepping back into time and felt so cosy and tranquil. When we left I said I didn’t want to go home.
“I said to James wouldn’t this be a lovely life.
“We’ve always missed the countryside since we met in 2015 and the prospect of moving back was always their in our minds.”
The pair then decided to put an offer on the hotel in late November 2017 after the owner told them it was for sale.
The pair then sold their two bedroom flat in Islington, London, in November 2018, for £700,000.
Zoe and James then began putting together a 70 page business plan which they needed to secure a mortgage for the hotel.
The couple finally completed the purchase on December 14 last year and opened for a week over Christmas.
And James said although their first month was a shock to the system, he and Zoe have loved each and every moment.
The couple, who are engaged to marry in August 2019, are now painstakingly renovating parts of the hotel in an effort to enhance its unique character and history, at a cost of £50,000.
Zoe and James have bought a state-of-the-art oven and new kitchen and are aiming to overhaul the hotel’s communal rooms and bedrooms.
James said: “We put an offer in and we didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, but then the agent called up and said that someone had bought it.
“Several months later we got a phone call saying it was a back up for sale after it had fallen through.
“We felt it was meant to be and that fact it had come back on the table again felt like fate.”
Zoe said: “The dream is to be our own bosses and work on the hotel as a long-term project.
“The whole place needs renovation, it’s a nice old country house but it needs a bit of new blood.
“We keeping the charm and the age of the house but just making it a bit more relevant.
“We’re doing things like exposing the old wooden floors hidden under the rugs.
“It’s a house that is steeped in history, and we want to show a bit more of that while bringing it into the modern age.
“We want to cherish the history and nurture the house as much as we can.”
FACTS ABOUT THE HOTEL
– Former guests include Mick Jagger, David Beckham, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Australian comedian Barry Humphries.
– The house was built in the 1760’s as a dower house to nearby Stanage Castle.