As I scanned the Wikipedia article, (which, by the way, has more information than you'll ever want to know about Stowe), this line caught my eye: "...below which is the Temple family motto TEMPLA QUAM DELECTA (How Beautiful are thy Temples)."
The Temple family. Aha. Light dawned.
We had stopped at Stowe Gardens on the way back from my parents' house. It is only a short distance from our usual route, and moreover, owned by the National Trust, so our membership entitled us to free entry. A quick lunch break on a sunny bench fueled us up for the half-mile walk to the gardens. Toby and Theo raced each other on the gravel path, and paused to investigate berries, sticks and duckweed-smothered ponds. We passed the ha-ha and entered the world of temples.
Stowe House was certainly built for grand effect. The south front is a great pile of steps, columns, urns, balustrades and general neoclassical glory, all overlooking a sweep of striped lawn sloping down to a reed-fringed lake. The grounds were designed to walk around; as you circle the lakes temples pop out of the trees, and views open up before you. There are plenty of bridges to hang over, nooks to explore, and arches to pose in front of.
The house is now a school. The founder was of the opinion that boys responded well to being educated in beautiful surroundings - which, once you get past the inverse-snobbery of, "Who has enough money to send their child to a place like this?", is probably quite true. If only every student had the opportunity. The Stowe House Trust offers tours of the house, although we decided against it on this occasion. Toby was sorely disappointed; I appreciated (with some frustration) the irony of my four-year-old crying because we were not touring a stately home.
He was comforted by finding "the biggest pumpkin ever" in the kitchen garden next to the New Inn, now the National Trust visitor centre. On that more homely note, we left the grandness of Stowe and its temples, and headed back to our more humble residence.