Although Sutherland and Caithness are nowadays part of the large Highland Council, historically these counties were independent local government areas of Scotland. Sutherland and Caithness make up the remote northern part of Scotland, bordered by Ullapool in the south-west, the historical county of Rosshire in the south (Easter and Wester Ross) and Dornoch in the south-east. This is a large area with only a few, mostly single track roads, crossing the Highland Glens. The clearances drove the people towards the sea and from crofters they often became fishermen. Evidence is still visible today when you look at the map. All the villages and towns are located close to the sea leaving the central part of this area largely uninhabited.
Typical landscape of Sutherland – Stac Pollaidh on the left
The road north of Ullapool takes the visitor back into a completely different landscape. Where Wester Ross is already remote and wild, Sutherland is even more so with its huge and strange shaped mountains such as Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Canisp. The roads are quiet and the landscape is desolate but stunningly beautiful with big views, remote lochs and castles such as the ruin of Ardvrech Castle at Loch Assynt. West from Loch Assynt is the lovely village of Lochinver and you can make a beautiful detour over the single track road towards Stoer and further north to the Drumbeg viewpoint.
Further north is one of the most beautiful and remote beaches in the UK, the beach of Sandwood Bay. Two kilometers of deserted beach backed by dunes and with views towards a huge sea stack. The north-west tip of Scotland is called Cape Wrath, a wild and extremely lonely part of the country. Durness is what you can call the end of the road north and offers all the facilities you need when travelling this lonely part of Scotland.
Caithness, the north western part of Scotland differs from the west. It’s not as mountaineous as other parts of the Highlands and there is a lot more population. The Caithness landscape is rich with the remains of pre-historic occupation. These include the Grey Cairns of Camster, the Stone Lud, the Hill O Many Stanes, a complex of sites around Loch Yarrows and over 100 brochs. Thurso is mainland Scotland’s most northerly town, and home to the country’s most northerly railway station. Wick was originally a fishing town built around the harbour but nowadays the off-shore industry plays an important role. Wick perhaps can be called a wee version of Aberdeen and the town also has an airport.
Typical landscape of Sutherland – Impressive Mountains (Quinag)
John o’ Groats, at the north-westerly tip of Scotland, is popular with tourists because it is usually regarded as the most northerly settlement of mainland Great Britain. It is, though, one end of the longest distance between two points on the British mainland, Land’s End being the other and many cyclists take the challenge and cycle end to end. The actual most northerly point is nearby Dunnet Head. Further south is Helmsdale, a planned village with fishing as its main source of income.
Sutherland, even more remote than Wester Ross, gives the traveller the feeling of going back in time. When driving north from Ullapool it seems like you are entering another country with its strange shaped mountains like Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Canisp and the feeling of loneliness is very present here. It is hard to imagine this was once a populated area with little farming communities before the clearances started.