E.L James got it wrong. There are in fact a thousand shades of grey.
I had ample time to watch them merge and converge between horizon and shingled beachfront. On Rathdown Road, hues change by the minute - something to do with the shimmering sea breeze and steel-streaked sky.
Whether or not grey is a flattering colour is inconsequential here. It is an austere and dignified colour, and therefore a perfect fit for this grande dame: a village that isn't quite a village, too stately to call a mere seaside town. Central Greystones comprises a population of around 18 000, and her close-knit hub buzzes throughout the day with the comings and goings of schoolchildren, pram-pushers and coffee fanatics.
Ireland in February is damp and dewy and cold. The chill settles into one's marrow if one stays seated too long. Coming from the balmy sunshine of Johannesburg, the change was precisely what I needed, and I was gifted a disproportionate number of sunny days between the two unseasonal snowstorms. The fields surrounding the village centre became my daily stomping ground, and my mid-morning walks to the Greystoneslibrary grew to be an indispensable part of my routine.
The town is found at the very end of the DART commuter line, placing her as far out of Dublin as possible (the journey north is roughly an hour), without quite escaping the city's fringes. For all the frost and sea spray around the heart of the original buildings, the people add a warmth to the Victorian streets stretching out from the Burnaby. It is a quirky hotspot of music, good food and artisans.
I fell in love with many aspects of Greystones. So much so, that despite the fact that my web hoster erased this article, I have painstakingly re-written it. Dedication to the cause, ladies and gentlemen.
1. The Greystones Guide
The blog speaks for itself. To my mind, this is top-calibre investigative journalism done right. The site is run and actively read by the town for the town. Anyone who wants to know anything about anyone or anything going on in the village reads the Guide. It's where I found out about the trad session and spice course I mention a little further down. My favourite posts are the exposé on the Greystones' Swingers Club and the archive of the town's roots.
2. Guys of Greystones
(Sorry girls! The name stuck before I met you all.)
I first encountered Cian and Sam at a weekly trad session, where, happily sipping away at a rather delicious chardonnay, I was under the impression that I was lost in a sea of strangers. Unbeknownst to me, I was actually the only newcomer to a group of musicians who share a long and harmonious history. It says a lot about the atmosphere of the town that instead of being excluded like the imposter I was, I was instead made to sing. Twice. I tried to refuse. But I lost. Twice.
This occasion foreshadowed the rest of our friendship. The boys took it upon themselves to ignore my protests, and instead extended the invitation to the many (and seriously chaps, there were many) sessions around Delgany and Blacklion. A 'session' can loosely be translated as 'a going-on or get-together involving a lot of beer, many midnight pancakes, open-mic jam sessions and fair amount of trance'. Despite the fact I cannot hold a note unaccompanied, and lack the capacity to estimate an arrival time when stomping across the country fields in the early hours of the morning, I was made welcome and unquestioningly included. To the people who showed me what they love about where they live, thank you for the music, your notorious humour, the hilltop chats, many potatoes, late-night walks, social debates and coffee recommendations.
These guys breathe music. They talk it, tweak it and share it. Check out Cian's 'cant get sick of' Spotify playlist of guilty pleasures the next time there's a slump day and the laundry piles up. If you can find a link to Sam's music, it is well worth it. Might be a challenge as he is a rather private lad, but talented behind the camera - his photographs highlight exactly what I love about his hometown (Instagram @aroundneweyes).
3. The Beachhouse and Baker's Table
I can't speak about Greystone's guys without mentioning their hangouts.
Though it is not the oldest pub in the village, the Beachhouse is certainly my favourite. It boasts a cosy interior and an incredible menu. Though the locals will look at you askance for ordering anything other than Guinness during the local Sunday meet up, the bar offers a jolly excellent wine selection too.
The best coffee I drank in Ireland was served at the Baker's Table. Were it not for the blustering wind that propels people and dogs through the door and into the awaiting wooden sanctuary filled with the warmth of freshly-baked bread, the café might pass for a hipster hidey-hole in Woodstock, Cape Town. I spent many happy hours tapping away with a cappuccino (and honey, Niamh) at my elbow.
4. The Hippy Pair of the Happy Pear
I like these guys so much I dedicated a post to them.
The queues outside the Flynn twins' vegan grocery extend down the street at lunchtime, as eager health nuts spill from the surrounding towns to load their trays with the litres of homemade hummus and Asian salads at the deli counter. Steve and Dave are Irish icons, pioneering the wholefood movement alongside chefs including Jamie Oliver, while managing to maintain good Youtube banter and Christmas craic all the while.
There is one issue, and that is the breadth of the brothers' enthusiasm for healthy living. It doesn't stop with raw food. Each day I awoke bundled against the temperate 2°C morning, only to open my phone and confront the inevitable reminder that the Hippy Pair had already been out for an hour-long swim rise, an activity that entails complete submersion in the dark ocean at dawn, followed by an impossible series of contorted yoga poses. These are meticulously uploaded with sunrise shots and motivational captions to the brand's Instagram story followed by vegan chocolate recipes and meal tips, all before my two feet have crossed the frigid floor to my host's coffee machine.
5. The Greystones cliff walk to Bray
I miss this most.
The 7km route is a strip of serotonin, and the residents who use it know that. In wet weeks, it becomes an obstacle course, and in dry ones a floral phenomenon, but the clifftop sights above the disused railway line are forever a surprise. I ran the trail everyday for two months and never once saw the same view.
Greystones gave me the room to think, explore and learn in a space that felt uniquely mine, a sort of secret, devoid of tourist trample and flashy brands. To anyone looking to get off the grid, this town has a lot to be proud of, and the charm of knowing how best to receive newcomers and invite them to make themselves at home.
There is only one thing I don't like about Greystones.