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General Characteristics

With only ten inhabitants to the square mile Sutherland is the most sparsely populated county in the British Isles. Except in Lairg and Rogart (which are inland parishes] the population is confined almost entirely to the coasts. From Lairg to Cape Wrath, a distance of fifty miles as the crow flies, the country is a desolate wilderness. From the top of Ben More, the highest point in the county, one can behold in every direction miles upon miles of country destitute of any sign of human occupation. Unless perchance a few sheep may be visible in some mountain corrie, nothing except natural moorland, loch, river, and rock, comes within the observer's ken. At Duchally, in the upper reaches of the Cassley river, spots of green appear in the otherwise limitless expanse of brown heather; but these patches of greensward only indicate where human beings lived about a hundred and twenty years ago. The characteristic feature of Sutherland is the vast wilderness which extends throughout its whole interior - dreary treeless stretches of moorland and waste.

Another striking feature is its mountain scenery. Sutherland mountains do not form ranges like those in some parts of the south Highlands. They are detached masses, rising separately in positions scattered throughout the limitless wasteland. From anyone of these great mountains most of the others are visible. Striking views are to be obtained in the western parishes of Suilbhein. Canisp, Stack, and Arcuil, though they are perhaps best observed from the deck of a vessel well out in the Minch. Clibreck and Ben Hee also provide a great range and variety of view. The rock scenery on the north and west coasts, whether viewed from sea or from land, forms a striking foreground to the mountain peaks of the interior. The numberless lochs, particularly in the west and north, many of them alive at the proper season with bird life, and full of water lilies and other freshwater plants, also form a notable feature of Sutherland, Only in the south-east of the county are there woods. The moorlands appear all the more dreary owing to the lack of trees and of variety in the plant life. Heather, coarse grasses, cotton grass, and deer's hair moss make up a great part of the inland vegetation. On the high mountains beautiful Alpine flowering plants are found in some of the corries.

Size, Shape, and Boundaries

Sutherland is roughly quadrangular in shape, with a projection towards the Ord on its eastern side. It extends some 50 miles from east to west by 40 miles from north to south, and covers an area of 2028 square miles. Excluding inland water the area of the county is 1,297,914 acres, of which two-thirds consist of mountain and heathland used for grazing, and nearly one-third is deer forest. Only 22,661 acres are arable. In 1905 the woodlands covered 20,000 acres, but a great deal of timber has been cut down during the past ten years. The area of inland waters is 47,633 acres. There are 12,812 acres of foreshore and 1553 acres of tidal water. Sutherland is fifth in area among Scottish counties, ranking after the other four Highland counties of Inverness, Argyll, Ross, and Perth. Slightly exceeding Aberdeenshire in size, Sutherland possesses less than four per cent of the extent of arable land in that county.

The greatest length from east to west within the county is 63 miles, along the line from Rhu Stoer to the Ord. The diagonal line from Cape Wrath to Dornoch Point is also about 63 miles. The greatest length from north to south is 48 miles from Strathy to Dornoch. From Far Aird Head to Oykell Bridge the distance is 45 miles and about the same from Cape Wrath to Cromalt Hills.

On the north and west coasts are several inlets and also bold headlands, such as Strathy Point, Whiten Head, Faraird Head, and Rhu Stoer. The angles of the coast line at Cape Wrath and Dornoch Point give the county a rectangular outline. The south-eastern boundary extends 25 miles along the Moray Firth coast from Dornoch Point to the Ord, and the eastern Caithness border 30 miles from the Ord to Drumhollistan. The Atlantic Ocean forms the northern boundary for over 40 miles. from Drumhollistan to Cape Wrath. The winding coastline following the indentations of Tongue, Eriboll, Durness and the other smaller bays and inlets is fully 80 miles. On the west the Minch coast along a front of 36 miles is rendered irregular by the inlets of Inchard, Luxford, and Loch Cairnbawn and the projection of Rhu Stoer. As on the north coast, these inward and outward windings double the length of the coastline. The southern boundary formed by the Oykell and Kirkaig rivers and the Dornoch Firth, extends 50 miles from Dornoch Point to Kirkaig. Between Loch Borrolan and the Oykell the county of Ross projects into Sutherland as far as Ben More. The burn of "Aultnacealgach" (burn of the deceivers), the boundary north of Loch Borrolan, is associated with a tradition that at the delimitation of the boundary the Ross-shire men secured this tongue of land on the west side of the Oykell by practising a deception upon their Sutherland neighbours .

Surface and General Features

The Oykell valley forms a great cleft separating the two northern counties from the southern mainland, so that the earlier geographers named Sutherland and Caithness the"Innismor", or great island. At Invershin this cleft bifurcates into a north-westerly branch running by the Shin valley and Lochs Shin, A'Ghriama, Merkland, More, and Stack to Loch Laxford and a westerly branch trending along the valley of the Oykell and by Lochs Urigil, Veyatie and Fionn to Loch Kirkaig. From north to south Strath Ullie and Strath Halladale form a marked cleft parallel to the eastern border, while at Altnaharra the depression along the Shin and the Tirry bifurcates into a north-easterly cleavage along Loch Naver and Strathnaver and a north-westerly one by Strathmore and Loch Hope, which strikes the northern ocean at the mouth of Loch Eriboll.

The striking features in the western basin of the county are well seen from Handa. Looking eastwards from the high cliffs of that island, one observes on the left the mountains of the Parph, of which Farmheall is the chief; Spionnaidh and Cranstackie are seen in the distance, while Foinncbhein and the Reay Forest are in the foreground. Arcuil rises almost due east, with Ben Stack on its right and Ben Leoid beyond Glen Dhu and Glen Coul. To the south-east rises Ben More, with Glasbheinn and Quinag in the foreground, on the right, while behind Quinag is Canisp, and almost due south Suilbheinn and the massive Coigach Mountains. The foreground of this impressive panorama of mountains consists of a wide stretch of bare and hummockv archaean rock, with countless lochs and lochans scattered over its uneven surface.

A good point for observing the eastern mountains is Carnbhren, some miles south of Bonar bridge. From its summit appear, rising from the Moray Firth coast, the whole south-eastern range, including Ben Horn, Ben Dobhran, and the Caithness mountains. Far to the north-east are the two Ben Griams; Armuinn and Clibreck are outstanding with Ben Hope in the far distance behind, while Ben Hee forms with the bold summit of the Assynt and Coigach Mountains a highly striking outline in the west.

In the vast tracts of uninhabited country wild animals, including game of all kinds, are naturally plentiful. The deer of Durness and "Dirimore" (great ridge) have been noted for centuries, but to the south of the "Dirimore", Sutherland is better adapted for sheep and cattle than for game.

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