Ice hockey player Matthew swaps Alberta prairie for wilds of Lochaber

Matthew has taken part in a few of the indoor training sessions held by Fort William Shinty Club recently in the Nevis Centre. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F04 MATTHEW SHINTY 01
Matthew has taken part in a few of the indoor training sessions held by Fort William Shinty Club recently in the Nevis Centre. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F04 MATTHEW SHINTY 01

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It is a long way from the Canadian city of Lacombe in Alberta to Lochaber – almost 4,000 miles to be precise.

And the time zones are not the only big differences, as Lacombe resident Matthew Bell has found out during his stay in Lochaber as part of his travels.

Matthew has been travelling around Scotland for the last four months, the last few weeks staying with a family in Lochailort.

‘I got a five-year visa to the UK and have been travelling round Scotland, visiting different places, seeing what interests me and taking in the culture,’ Matthew told the Lochaber Times.

‘Lacombe is in the prairies, so it’s little bit different. For example, where I’m from a cold snap is minus 40 or  minus 50, although that’s not to say the weather is not tough here also.

‘I’ve been here for a few weeks at Lochailort, staying with Gary [Burton] and Katie, helping out. They put me up through an organisation that links volunteers with families that need a bit of help.

‘They have like a small farm here and a B&B. So I’ve been helping out with the chickens and the house.  I’ll be here for another few weeks and then kind of just going where work is.

‘My line of work is environmental studies and there’s not a lot happening here at this time of year. But it’s been great. Gary and Katie have been great. I was hoping to get some skiing in. I don’t have a car so I’ve been using the train and with a station here at Lochailort, it’s been cool.’

As part of his stay in Lochaber, Matthew has been joining in some of the indoor training sessions at Fort William Shinty Club – an interesting experience for a Canadian ice hockey player.

He explained: ‘The shinty’s been great for meeting people. I’d heard about shinty when I was in other parts of Scotland and people said I should check it out if was ever up in the Highlands.

‘ I kind of had an idea to check it out and mentioned it to Gary. It’s been great but it is not really similar to ice hockey.

‘The basic structure of the game is but that’s about all. Ice hockey is faster and there’s a different way of using your stick. The way they hit a shinty ball seems more like golfing to me.

‘It seems a very Scottish game – very rough and gritty. Perhaps a bit more like the Irish game of Hurling than ice hockey.

‘But it’s been a good way to meet people and folks at the club have been great and so welcoming.’

And Matthew laughed: ‘I’ve taken part in indoor training sessions – going outside in this weather at night to play just seems like asking for trouble to me!’

And he concluded: ‘But I am really enjoying my stay, seeing everything, meeting the people. It’s been great – it could’ve rained a bit less though!’