The Auld Wives’ Lift stands at an altitude of just under 180m OD (Nat Grid Ref. NS 582764) on Craigmaddie Muir, some 5km north of Milngavie. The Muir, a rolling heather covered moorland of eponymous sandstone, is an area of some ardhaelogical richness, with two chambered tombs, several cairns, and a group of cup-and-ring markings. The Craigmaddie sandstone was also excellent for millstones, and every stage in their manufacture can be detected on the muir.
The meaning of Craigmaddie is ‘Rock of God’ and the Lifts consist of two massive prismatic shaped stones alongside each other, with a third stone, eighteen feet long, lying across them so as to form a sort of altar. Beneath the capstone is a narrow and irregular gap, which does not reach down to ground level, and “through this opening, so superstition says, every stranger who visits this place for the first time must creep, otherwise he shall die childless.”
The origins of the Lifts rest in the mists of time, but could be a druid altar. A circle of oak trees stood nearby until the middle of the nineteenth century, giving credence to this theory. “Probably no better example exists of the rude stone altar of Druid times. Here…stands the great pagan cathedral of western Scotland.” (Todd, 1898,2-3)
However, there are sceptics who state that the monument is more likely to have been the work of nature than of man. It is claimed that the Lifts were originally a single block or tor, isolated by the excavating action of ice. This tor was subsequently weathered and split so that the lower part, now in two slipped and tilted, while the upper layer settled into the hollow thus formed. The alternative suggestion, that the capstone at least may have been humanely placed, appears no less difficult. The weight, between 60-70 tonnes, may be no real obstacle, especially as the lift required is only about 1.5 metres.
Arguments of its origins aside, it is nonetheless recognized that the Lifts have features which could only be attributed to man. For example, incised on the level top of the capstone, a circle 90 cm in diameter. Some considered the circle to be an ‘ancient sanctifying emblem’, further proof, therefore, of the druidical function of the Lifts. Others claim it was probably made by a quarryman engaged in cutting out millstones near by.
Further extensive research, both geological and archaelogical, is needed to provide a satisfactory explanation of the origin of the Lifts. In addition to names, initials and dates (roughly cut & disfigured by thoughtless visitors over many years) and the circle on the capstone, the Lifts also bear a number of carved and incised heads. These were first noticed in 1975, however most are severly weather eroded and very little is known of their age.
Whatever the Lifts origins, the favourite explanatiom among locals is the legend which claims that three old women from Campsie, Strathblane Baldernock, having laid a wager which could carry the greatest burden, brought, in their aprons, the three stones and laid them in position.
source: Alcock, Leslie – The Auld Wives’ Lifts -Antiquity, LI, 1997, (see Milngavie Library for article & further details.)