History paints Sutherland, nestled in the Highlands of Scotland, as a land of vast wilderness known for its breathtaking landscapes, charming remoteness and unique allure. This northern gem serves as a retreat from urban life with its beautiful coastline, lush meadows, and rugged hilly terrains while simultaneously offering simplicity with ease of access to essential services and amenities.

In this guide, we delve into this historical county, sharing facets of its rich past, iconic landmarks and highlighting its best areas for prospective residents considering a move to this beautiful part of the UK.

History of Sutherland

The history of Sutherland - Suðrland or 'south-land' in Old Norse - is steeped in ancient Viking legacy, with signs of their settlements scattered across this vast county. Countless archaeological sites denote the presence of a prehistoric populace, dating back to Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. The late 18th and 19th centuries experienced the infamous Highland Clearances when inhabitants were forcibly evicted to make way for sheep farming, a significant event etched in Sutherland's past. Today, the area remains an exemplar of Scotland's fascinating history, its stunning geography offering a window into the country's geologic past.


Visitors to Sutherland are spoilt for choice when it comes to landmarks, with top highlights including Dunrobin Castle, the most northerly of Scotland's great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands. The towering cliffs of Cape Wrath, Britain’s most north-westerly point, are an essential visit for dramatic coastal views. Finally, no visit to Sutherland would be complete without a trip to the breathtaking Smoo Cave, a naturally eroded cave set into the limestone cliffs.

Landmarks we love

  • The Whaligoe Steps: Situated near the small seaport of Wick, these historical steps descend 250 feet down the cliffside, once used by locals to haul fish. This hidden gem offers picturesque shoreline views.
  • North West Highlands Geopark: This UNESCO Geopark is a paradise for geology lovers; showcasing the oldest rocks in Britain, ancient landscapes and stunning coastlines.
  • Ben Loyal: Known as the 'Queen of Scottish Mountains', Ben Loyal offers a challenging trek with striking views at its summit.
  • Handa Island: This wildlife reserve is home to tens of thousands of seabirds and offers an immersive, tranquil nature experience.
  • Am Fasgadh: A stunning, tucked-away fairy-tale turret located in the rolling grounds of Dunrobin Castle.

Top 10 things to do in Sutherland

  • Visit Durness: This quaint village offers gorgeous beaches, water sports and is the location of the unique Balnakeil Craft Village, where artists and artisans display their work.
  • Hike the hills of Kylesku: Get ready to immerse yourself in nature and experience panoramic views at the top.
  • Surf at Sandside Bay: A hidden haven for surfers with beautiful sandy coastline.
  • Try local seafood: The seafood in Sutherland is renowned. Don't miss local eateries like The Craggan, Gruinard Bay Caravan Park & Restaurant, or the Summer Isles Hotel.
  • Wildlife tours: EcoVentures offers exhilarating trips to see dolphins, seals and a variety of seabirds in their natural habitats.
  • Visit The Bone Caves: A natural wonder with a fascinating geological and archaeological history.
  • Scenic Drives: Take a drive along the North Coast 500, a jaw-dropping scenic route that loops around the northernmost tip of mainland Britain.
  • Hit the beach: Melvich Beach, Strathy Bay and Achmelvich Beach are some of the most beautiful beaches in the area.
  • Explore ancient ruins: Ardvreck Castle and Castle Varrich offer a glimpse into Sutherland's rich history.
  • Stargazing: With its clear skies, Sutherland is an ideal location for stargazing.

Our recommended areas to live in Sutherland

  • Golspie: With the scenic beauty of the coastline, excellent local amenities, historic attractions, and proximity to larger nearby towns, Golspie is an attractive location for home-seekers.
  • Dornoch: Known for its iconic cathedral and championship golf course, Dornoch offers a small-town feel with high-standard amenities and schools.
  • Bonar Bridge: This peaceful village offers a laid-back lifestyle, with its breathtaking views of the Kyle of Sutherland and surrounding hills.
  • Lairg: Known as the 'Crossroads of the North', Lairg offers easy access to all towns in Sutherland. Its peaceful environment, local amenities, and good schools make it a perfect choice for families.
  • Lochinver: This scenic fishing village offers affordable housing, local conveniences, and an abundance of natural beauty.

Best schools in Sutherland

Sutherland offers excellent educational facilities, both primary and secondary. Dornoch Academy, Golspie High School, and Kinlochbervie High School are known for their strong academic performances and supportive learning environments. For primary education, Bonar Bridge Primary School, Gledfield Primary School, and Helmsdale Primary School are standouts reputed for their vibrant learning communities and quality teaching. Sutherland's commitment to blended learning, engagement with outdoor environments, and support for pupils' wellbeing ensures families can entrust their children's education to capable hands. Furthermore, for further education, the North Highland College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, has campuses in nearby Alness and Dornoch offering a broad range of courses and apprenticeships.

Transport links in Sutherland

Travelling in and out of Sutherland is streamlined by its well-connected transport links. The A9 trunk road serves as the primary road connection with Inverness and the south, while the A836 provides access to the west and north. The Far North Line railway operates services between Inverness and Thurso/Wick with multiple stations across Sutherland. Nearby airports include Wick John O'Groats and Inverness airports, providing further connectivity, particularly for those requiring regular trips to larger cities. Additionally, several bus services run through the county, enabling easy movement within the region and beyond.

In conclusion, Sutherland is ideal for those seeking solace in nature without compromising modern conveniences. Offering a treasury of historical sites, natural wonders, amiable communities, excellent schools, and strong transport links, Sutherland strikes a desirable balance of tranquillity and functionality. Its charm lies in its unique marriage of its rich history and impressive landscapes with the simplicity and warmth of highland life.

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