Sutherland is a registration county, lieutenancy area and historic administrative county of Scotland. It is now within the Highland local government area. In Gaelic the area is referred to according to its traditional areas: Dùthaich 'Ic Aoidh (NW), Asainte (Assynt), and Cataibh (East). However, Cataibh will often be heard used as referring to the area as a whole.
The county town, and only burgh of the county, is Dornoch. Other settlements include Bonar Bridge, Lairg, Brora, Durness, Embo, Tongue, Golspie, Helmsdale, Lochinver, Scourie and Kinlochbervie. The population of the county as at the 2001 Census was 13,466.
The administrative county became a local government area in 1890, and was abolished in 1975, when the Sutherland district was created as one of eight districts of the Highland local government region. The region was created at the same time as the district. The district was abolished in 1996, when the region became a unitary council area.
The name Sutherland dates from the era of Norse rule and settlement over much of the Highlands and Islands, under the rule of the jarl of Orkney. Although it contains some of the northernmost land in the island of Great Britain, it was called Suðrland ("southern land") from the standpoint of Orkney and Caithness.
The North-West corner of the County, traditionally known as the Province of Strathnaver, was not incorporated into Sutherland until 1601. This was the home of the powerful and warlike Clan Mackay, and as such was named in Gaelic, Dùthaich 'Ic Aoidh, the Homeland of Mackay. Even today this part of the county is known as Mackay Country, and, unlike other areas of Scotland where the names traditionally associated with the area have become diluted, there is still a preponderance of Mackays in the Dùthaich.
As well as Caithness to the north and east, Sutherland has North Sea (Moray Firth) coastline in the east, the historic county of Ross and Cromarty (formerly Ross and Cromarty) to the south, and Atlantic coastline in the west and north. Like its southern neighbour, Wester Ross, the county has some of the most dramatic scenery in the whole of Europe, especially on its western fringe where the mountains meet the sea. These include high sea cliffs, and very old mountains composed of Precambrian and Cambrian rocks.