Là-haut, le Diable et ses diablotins s'amusent parfois à jouer
au palet et quand ils manquent leur coup, la pierre dévale la moraine.
Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, Derborence
High up in the Swiss Alps, the Devil's Skittle (La Quille du Diable in French) is a 100m high rocky outcrop sticking out from the top of the huge les Diablerets mountain range. From the north side, it can be seen as a relatively large finger or bowling pin at the top end of the Tsanfleuron glacier. From the south side, it looks more like a small rock perched precariously on the top of thousand-metre high cliffs.
In Switzerland, the mountains have always been feared. Their beauty did not make up for falling rocks, landslides and avalanches. While God can explain many useful things, such as rain and sun and how cows are good but chamois irritating, only the Devil could possibly induce the mountains to wreak such random havoc. Cast out by zealous vicars the land over, the mountain became his last refuge.
Why! The plateau of Tsanfleuron once had the sweetest grass in the area until the devil, angry that his abode should be so troubled, covered it with everlasting snows. In the valley below, the village of Derborence of C.-F. Ramuz fame suffered two large rock falls during the 18th century, causing the herders to flee, not daring to come back for many a year.
When questioned about their fear of the mountain, the villagers of Derborence would cross themselves, pointing up at the Devil's Skittle and explaining in whisper that, when fancy took him, the Devil and his minions would play skittles1 up on the glacier, frequently missing their target, but never failing to send rocks tumbling down upon the houses and cattle below.
This legend and many others explain the respect that the locals had for the crazy English mountaineers who desired conquest of the mountains. Vestigal traces remain in the natural fear that the britnoder inspires, even today.
1 Note that these skittles are not yucky fruit sweets, but a game, similar to bowling