Nelson’s loss, Spain’s win, a feast of historical colour

Battle has raged in Santa Cruz this weekend, bodies have been battered and bruised, and screams of horror and anguish have rung out as the brightly coloured spoils of war are worn with pride. Anyway, that’s enough about the women at the sales that are under way in the capital, it’s also been the biggest celebration yet of Tenerife’s defeat of the British Navy under Admiral Nelson on July 25 1797.

Spain victorious

I went up early on Saturday to take in the big parade and then move on to the Spanish Athletics Championships in Tincer, but reading the paper on the bus, I discovered it was a complete sell out, one hurdle I didn’t see coming. Never mind, the reports of Fridays re-enactment of Nelsons forces landing at Castillo San Juan, next to the auditorium, whet my appetite for the big parade from Plaza del General Weyler (from the Spanish Civil War) , down the Calle del Castillo towards the Plaza de España and the seafront.

The massed ranks of British and Spanish forces arrived at 11.30, right on time, well 211 years late if Captain Troubridgeyou want to be picky, and stood easy for countless photo opportunities. I got to speak to some Brits taking part “Rommels Raiders” these lucky chaps get to travel all over the world portraying battles from various ages of British history, and were delighted to be invited to share in La Gesta (an epic achievement). Captain ( Sir Thomas ) Troubridge, looked replendent in his black tunic and white trousers, even if he did have an uncanny resemblence to Stephen Fry. On this occaision he was happy to pose with the “enemy” but all those years ago he took over from Nelson, after the great leader had been blasted in the right elbow by grapeshot from a canon as he came ashore.Â

After a while, the drum rolls summoned the forces together, more than a few had found there way into local bars, and they set off down the Calle with great pomp and style. Reaching the Plaza de la Candelaria, they lined up for inspection by their leaders and Governor Gutierrezspeeches were made. The Spanish governor of Tenerife in 1797, Juan Antonio Gutierrez, looking triumphant in his braided hat with white wig and gold cane, congratulated his men on their bravery. The British spokesman, amused the British tourists in the crowd by announcing “we struggled yesterday, but I still think we can win this, and think of the prize money”.

There was a lot of shared language among the rival performers, and some good spirited banter. It’s amazing to think that even after the 226 deaths in the failed attack, Nelson and Gutierrez had such a mutual respect for each other, they swapped gifts and Nelson was invited to dine with the Governor, and Nelsons name is not hated as you might expect, but grudgingly admired to this day. The massed forces set off to the seafront, past the Cabildo (Tenerife government) headquarters, where the flags of Spain, Tenerife and The Canaries fluttered proudly in the breeze. Tonight there will be much dancing and of course fireworks – and maybe even the odd flagon of ale or Tenerife wine.