According to modern weathermen this past
winter in the Canary Islands was the dullest in terms of prolonged low
temperatures, as well as the driest for seventeen years. But, sheltering from
the mid-day sun under a nispero or loquat
tree in my garden, just inland from
the northern shores of Tenerife, I can only agree with those many 19th
century British scientists, artists, doctors or mere travellers who wrote such
admiring articles about the climate in the Canary Islands and especially of
that to be found in the Orotava Valley.


The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
Loquats in the Orotava Valley (Eriobotrya japonica)
     One of them
was Doctor Jasper Creagh. In 1889 he wrote one of those articles for the
British Medical Journal after spending three months in the valley, which was in those
days carpeted with fields in blossom and the beginnings of banana
plantations, a produce which replaced the cochineal industry.
     He had spent the previous twenty years living in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a doctor for the British community. The climate in that part of the world can vary between freezing cold winters and stifling summers so it is perhaps not
surprising that Doctor Creagh found the climate here so gentle. Nevertheless he
decided to visit the island after hearing so much about the charms of Tenerife
and its weather from earlier travellers and during his stay he took very
scientific notes to support such praise for the climate.
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La Orotava
     The doctor
spent a few days exploring the island on horseback and in carriages before falling
for the colourful charms of La Orotava. It was here that he began to make
observations, taking into account the weather patterns and temperature
variations. In his article for the British Medical Journal he referred to Sir
Morel Mackenzie who had also stayed in La Orotava during the winter of 1888 and
had observed that Tenerife has three
great advantages….the relative constancy of the temperature, the dryness of the
atmosphere and the variety of weather in a small space.
 Mackenzie was one of Britain’s pioneers in laryngology. 


Sir Morel Mackenzie
Creagh, referring to Sir Morel’s conclusions, compared the climate of Tenerife
with another British favourite, Madeira. The average temperature in Madeira was 63°F.  The average in La Orotava was approximately
67°F.  In Port Orotava, the old name for
Puerto de la Cruz, bathed by the sea and protected by the mountains, the
average temperature was 68°F, ranging from 62°F in January to 76°F in July. It
was indeed during the winter months that most Victorian visitors came to stay
in the valley and they were greeted with temperatures, from November to March,
averaging 63°F to 64°F. A paradise, it would seem.
visitors to Puerto de la Cruz this past winter, which was perpetually cloudy
and cold, might have felt the same as my mother did 52 years ago. In her
diaries she described the weather during most of January 1963 as cold, windy
and wet, almost as bleak as the Dartmoor farm from which she had escaped ten
years earlier. However she lived in the Orotava Valley, which she loved, for nearly sixty years so
would certainly agree with Doctor Creagh who remarked at the lack of
atmospheric disturbances in Tenerife. Like Creagh, who described the delights
of the sea breeze which gave Puerto its gentle conditions, even in the hottest
summer, she too would sit under this nispero
tree and enjoy feeling the gentle, cool breeze soothing away the mid-day sun.

Friedrich Heinrich Alexander, Baron von Humboldt, the great German Naturalist and Explorer
Jasper Creagh was almost as generous as Alexander von Humboldt who, in June
1799, described the Orotava Valley as a place of varied beauty, with
pretty fields, woods and delicious gardens providing a perpetual spring. He was
also enthusiastic, as few Victorians were, about bathing. Indeed he noted the
sea was warm enough to swim in, even in winter.
A mobile hammock in Port Orotava (Puerto de la Cruz)
     Whilst in
Tenerife Doctor Creagh got around on horseback, in carriages or in hammocks.
They could all be hired for a very reasonable price. For example he could hire
a horse for a whole month for less than 150 pesetas. He had come to the island
on a British regular line steamer from South America although he appears to
have been most unpatriotic in recommending French ships as the best.
from the very few, but fine old hotels in the 19th century, like the
Camacho or Quisana Grand Hotel which overlooked the bay in Santa Cruz, met
passengers aboard the ships as they docked in the harbour or anchored offshore.
They took care of every detail and would have carriages waiting to take
passengers to La Laguna or to the Orotava Valley along what Creagh described as
an excellent macadamised road. In
other words horse drawn wooden carriages would offer a smooth, bumpy ride over compressed layers of stones.
Early postcard depicting the Quisana Hotel
     Whilst Victorian elegance was evident in the grand hotels there were
different expectations about travel comfort one hundred and twenty years ago and journeying any distance was still expected to be an adventure.
Nevertheless it was thanks to writers like Doctor Jasper Creagh, recommending the
qualities of the Orotava Valley as a health resort, that so many British
travellers chose to come here in the late 19th century, creating the
beginnings of the Canary Island tourist industry.  
(Certain images have been reproduced from internet with no personal financial gain intended.)
By John Reid Young

Author of The Skipping Verger and Other Tales, a collection of short stories set in Tenerife.