RARE hares took centre stage in Cirencester at the weekend as an eye-catching festival bounded into town.

The atmosphere was electric as crowds of visitors bustled around the town centre on Saturday for the launch of the Cirencester March Hare Festival.

Months in the planning, the festival, which will run throughout the summer, will aim to boost the profile of the town, encourage visitors to discover some of Cirencester’s hidden shopping areas and raise money for wildlife projects in the area.

It was launched outside the Parish Church by celebrity designer and Siddington resident Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen who had put his own creative energies into designing Hare – quickly dubbed the Boudoir Bunny.

“This is a wonderful occasion which is very much putting Cirencester on the map,” he said.

“The hare is very important to Cirencester as it’s a symbol of the Corinium. It’s such a lovely idea that the hares are coming back to the town.”

Each of the model hares, on display around the town and surrounding areas, has been transformed into individual works of art.

Part of the festival is the Hare Trail – a map of where hare spotters can find the elusive yet gaudily painted creatures.

Festival organiser Florence Beetlestone said: “This is such a wonderful thing for the town. People have come from far and wide today.”

Big names of Cirencester felt they could not miss out on the fun of a new festival and leapt straight into Saturday's celebrations.

As well as Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his family, Lord and Countess Bathurst also made a special appearance, as did Lord Lieutenant for Gloucestershire Dame Janet Trotter and mayor of Cirencester Joe Harris.

“This festival is a real symbol of just how much higher Cirencester punches above its weight,” said Laurence. “Cirencester is a small community but it’s still up there with the big players.”

"It really does feel like the first day of spring today,” added Laurence. “There are hares everywhere and it brings a tremendous sense of vibrancy to the town.”

Laurence’s hare, Boudoir Bunny, was designed to be a symbol of Venus. The designer himself drew each detailed design by hand before transferring it onto the model.

Mayor of Cirencester Joe Harris said the hare festival was a fantastic occasion.

“It’s great to see so many dignitaries and famous faces here today. It’s absolutely packed in town,” he said.

Countess Bathurst received the honour of cutting the huge hare cake made by Cotswold Finest Cakes.

“I think this festival is something really positive for Cirencester,” she said. “This is an extraordinary cake and I feel thrilled to cut it. It’s absolutely amazing how the icing is even coloured in different shades, just like a hare.”

Resident Clare Pywell went along to the festival launch with her 11-year-old daughter Ella.

“I think it's a really great idea. It’s such a buzz,” said Clare. “We were actually planning to go to the NEC in Birmingham today but I saw the weather and thought about the hare festival and decided I wanted to be in Cirencester.”

Clare’s daughter Ella said she was looking forward to seeing which hares she could find around town.