The climate is variable, and though the winter storms fall with great severity on the coast, yet owing to proximity to a vast expanse of sea the cold is not intense and snow seldom lies many days continuously. In winter and spring the northern shore is subject to frequent and disastrous gales from the N. and N.W. Only about two-fifths of the arable land is good. In spite of this and the cold, wet and windy climate, progressive landlords and tenants keep a considerable part of the acreage of large farms successfully tilled. In 1824 James Traill of Ratter, near Dunnet, recognizing that it was impossible to expect tenants to reclaim and improve the land on a system of short leases, advocated large holdings on long terms, so that farmers might enjoy a substantial return on their capital and labour. Thanks to this policy and the farmers' skill and enterprise, the county has acquired a remarkable reputation for its produce; notably oats and barley, turnips, potatoes and beans. Sheep - chiefly Leicester and Cheviots - of which the wool is in especial request in consequence of its fine quality, cattle, horses and pigs are raised for southern markets.
The great source of profit to the inhabitants is to be found in the fisheries of cod, ling, lobster and herring. The last is the most important, beginning about the end of July and lasting for six weeks, the centre of operations being at Wick. Besides those more immediately engaged in manning the boats, the fisheries give employment to a large number of coopers, curers, packers and helpers. The salmon fisheries on the coast and at the mouths of rivers are let at high prices. The Thurso is one of the best salmon streams in the north. The flagstone quarries, mostly situated in the Thurso, Olrig and Halkirk districts, are another important source of revenue. Of manufactures there is little beyond tweeds, ropes, agricultural implements and whisky, and the principal imports consist of coal, wood, manure, flour and lime.
The only railway in the county is the Highland railway, which, from a point some four miles to the south-west of Aultnabreac station, crosses the shire in a rough semicircle, via Halkirk, to Wick, with a branch from Georgemas Junction to Thurso. There is also, however, frequent communication by steamer between Wick and Thurso and the Orkneys and Shetlands, Aberdeen, Leith and other ports. The deficiency of railway accommodation is partly made good by coach services between different places.
The population of Caithness in 1891 was 33,177, and in 1901, 33,870, of whom twenty-four persons spoke Gaelic only, and 2876 Gaelic and English. The chief towns are Wick (pop. in 1901, 7911) and Thurso (3723). The county returns one member to parliament. Wick is the only royal burgh and one of the northern group of parliamentary burghs which includes Cromarty, Dingwall, Dornoch, Kirkwall and Tain. Caithness unites with Orkney and Shetland to form a sheriffdom, and there is a resident sheriff-substitute at Wick, who sits also at Thurso and Lybster. The county is under school-board jurisdiction, and there are academies at Wick and Thurso. The county council subsidizes elementary schools and cookery classes and provides apparatus for technical classes.