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History and Description

Sutherland - History and Description, 1868

"SUTHERLAND, a seaside county of Scotland, and one of the most northerly sections of the Highlands. It includes the districts of Assynt, Durness, Sutherland, Eddrachillis, and Strathnaver, formerly a county of itself. Its form presents five sides, three of which are described by the Dornoch Firth on the S.E., the North Sea on the N., and the Atlantic on the W., while on the E. it is separated by a range of mountains from Caithnesshire, and on the remaining side to the S.W. it adjoins the county of Ross and Cromarty. In the early times it appears to have been inhabited by the Pictish tribes, Carnonacæ, Logi, and Mertæ, and was included in the Roman province of Vespasian. It was subsequently overrun by the Northmen, who gave it its present name, meaning "the Southern Land" of the Orkney Northmen. In the 12th century it was made a thanedom or earldom by David I., who gave it, with other possessions, to Hugh Freskin and his sons, who had crossed over from Flanders. It is now a dukedom in the family of Gower, Marquis of Stafford, who are heritors of the greater portion of this territory. The county lies between 57° 48' and 58° 38' N. lat., and between 3° 40' and 5° 20' W. long. Its length from Cape Wrath in the S.E. to Brora is 56 miles, and its greatest breadth from N. to S. 51 miles, but the average does not exceed 32 miles. Its area is 1,886 square miles, or 1,207,183 statute acres, deducting about 32,000 for salt-water lochs, but not above 70,000 acres are under cultivation. Its circuit is a little above 220 miles, of which 152 are sea-coast, exclusive of bays and indentations. The northern and western coasts are bold and rocky, deeply indented by inlets of the sea and bays, alternated with headlands, promontories, and cliffs. Among the principal points on the coast are Port Skerry, Strathy Bay (known to the Romans as Straba Flumina), Armidale Head, Farr and Torrisdale bays, Comb and Rona islands, lying off Kyle or Tongue Bay, Whiten Head, near Loch Eribol, Farout Head, near Kyle-of-Durness, and the Stack rocks, one of which forms a peak 230 feet high; at the north-western corner of the county, where the Atlantic and North Sea join, rises Cape Wrath, composed of cliffs 600 feet high, and worn into numerous caverns by the action of the waves. Beyond this point, on the coast of the Atlantic, are Sandwood Bay, Chonnie and Handa islands, with lochs Inchard and Laxford; Eddrachyllis, in Badwell Bay; Kyle; Skee, containing numerous islets; Clashnessie Bay; and Loch Inver, in Assynt. On the E. side of the county, where the coasts are low and sandy, skirting the Firth of Dornoch, the principal points are Meikle Ferry, at the mouth of the river Oikel; Little Ferry, over Loch Fleet; the port of Golspie, near Dunrobin Castle; Brora, Portgower, and Helmsdale, where the cliffs rise towards the Ord of Caithness. Along the W. and N. coasts are several small islands belonging to the county, the largest being Oldany, Calva, and Handa, which are inhabited; also the Stack and Skerries islands, and several islets, as Hoan, Roan, Rabbit, and Holy Island, close to the coast. The interior of the county consists almost entirely of mountains, moors, glens, lakes, and morasses, except a narrow strip of land on the E. coast, which is level, and sheltered from the N. by a ridge of mountains from 300 to 800 feet high. Among these mountain ranges, one of great altitude runs nearly parallel with the shores of the North Sea and Atlantic, separating the hills and valleys of the S. from the wild regions of the W. and N. The highest peaks of this range are, Ben More, which attains an elevation of 3,231 feet above the sea-level; Ben Hee, 2,859 feet; and Ben Spenue or Spinnue, 2,566 feet. The great barrier which for centuries had retarded the progress of material improvement was the difficulty of communication, owing to the dangerous narrow firths to be crossed, and the total want of roads. These difficulties were at length overcome towards the close of the last century through the exertions of the dukes of Sutherland, assisted by Parliament, which advanced a moiety of the expense to be incurred for certain roads and bridges in the Highlands. Under these auspices vast improvements have been carried out, and there are now about 400 miles of road well laid out, connected by numerous bridges spanning the mountain streams, which flow through narrow straths, to which they give name, as the Cassley and Tyvie, tributaries of the Oikel, the Evlix, Fleet, Brora, and Helmsdale, falling into the Dornoch Firth, and the Halladale, Strathy, Naver, Borgie, More, and Gradie into the North Sea, all of which are salmon and trout streams, The lakes, which are numerous, are mostly situated in the middle and western parts of the county. The more important are, the Shin, which is 18 miles long, being the largest in extent; the braver, the Hope, the More, the Assynt, the Laoghal or Loyal, the Brora, the Merkland, the Maddie, the Nacarr or Nacnan, the Borley, and the Sandwood, besides numerous others, all abounding in fish, including the red-bellied trout, found in Loch Borley. The fisheries on the coast are chiefly of cod, ling, mackerel, lobsters, and herrings, of which last from 30,000 to 40,000 barrels are annually exported. The interior uplands and some of the valleys are divided into extensive sheepwalks, which are well stocked. The arable farms are mostly confined to the E. coast. The soil is generally sandy, and turnips and potatoes are produced in abundance, with good crops of barley and oats, but little wheat and rye are grown. In the mountainous districts, especially in the neighbourhood of Eddrachyllis, game is abundant. The prevailing rocks of the interior of the county, and a considerable portion of the W. coast, are gneiss and mica slate, with Old Red sandstone, conglomerate, and quartz at Cape Wrath, Ben Stomie, and Ru Storr, and limestone in Durness and Assynt, and near Brora, at which last place it occurs in juxtaposition with New Red sandstone and jet coal. On the E. coast the high hills of Golspie are of old conglomerate, with oolitic sandstone, limestone, and coal, occupying the lower districts; towards the confines of Caithness granite is met with; and the high hills of Loth are composed of porphyritic granite of different colours, yellow, brown, and grey. Veins of quartz, of calcareous spar, of tremolite, and traces of bog-iron and manganese are found in various parts, also coal. There are no manufactures of any importance in the county, and only a small proportion of the population are employed in trade. The old valued rent was £2,266, but the assessment for property-tax in 1861 was £53,790. The population in 1851 was 25,793, and in 1861, 25,246, being 272 less than in 1831, when it was 25,518. The county is divided into 13 parishes, 10 of which belong to the Duke of Sutherland, who has also considerable properties in the remaining three. The only town is Dornoch, a royal and parliamentary burgh, and capital of the county, where the sheriffs' and sessions courts are held. The villages are, Bettyhill, Golspie, Helmsdale, Kirkiboll, Lairg, Melvich, Scourie, Tongue, and Portgower, besides about 35 hamlets. The county returns one member to parliament, the constituency in 1860 being 313, and Dornoch joins with Wick, Cromarty, Dingwall, Kirkwall, and Tain, in returning one member. The government is administered by a lord-lieutenant, vice-lieutenant, 20 deputy-lieutenants, a sheriff, and sheriff substitute. It anciently formed part of the see of Caithness, the bishop's palace and the cathedral of the diocese being at Dornoch, but now belongs to the presbyteries of Dornoch, Tongue, and Caithness, in the synod of Sutherland. There are 16 congregations of the Establishment, and 17 of the Free church. Among the antiquities may be mentioned the Druidical stones at Clacktoll; upright stones, tumuli, and pillars at Criech, Golspie, and other points on the E. coast; Pictish forts at Ru Storr, Craigbarr, Rogart, Bonfrectan, Farr, and Helmsdale; Danish forts at Loth; and foundations and ruins of old towers and strongholds at Ardvraick, where the M'Leods had a castle; at Criech, the stronghold of the Rosses; Bighouse, of the Mackays; Dun Reay, of Lord Reay; also at Borve, Dunrobin, Helmsdale, Skilbo, and Tongue; and the episcopal palace at Dornoch, which last is still used for county purposes."

Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)