A father-of-three who is raising money by cycling across Zimbabwe dressed as a clown has reached his destination five days early.

Richard Pantlin, from Hurst Street, in East Oxford, embarked on a 373-mile cycle across the troubled African country on March 28, to raise funds to build an orphanage.

He and his team, which included two off-duty policemen and a fellow fundraiser, Zimbabwean-born Asher Mupasi from Stoke-on-Trent, had intended to cycle from Bulawayo into the capital Harare in time for Independence Day on Saturday.

But despite initial setbacks, which included an arrest attempt on a member of the team, sunstroke, and a broken bike carrier, the team arrived in Harare five days early.

Mr Pantlin said: “We started earlier and needed fewer rest days than expected – despite Asher suffering sun stroke.

“The biggest impression is of a Zimbabwean people who are extremely hospitable, res-ourceful and friendly.

“We were able to stay in school classrooms and church halls on the way, so only had to camp out one night.

“Everyone was very supportive of the venture and we received photo coverage in two of the national newspapers.

“The picture is very different from the perception gained from the BBC.”

Mr Pantlin hopes to hand a postcard, bought on his only previous visit to the country in 1987, to its controversial president Robert Mugabe, as a symbol of how the nation has deteriorated.

The cyclists are hoping to secure a meeting with Mr Mugabe within the next couple of days.

Mr Pantlin said the ride through Zimbabwe had been an ‘eye-opener’.

He said: “Shops are trading again now that the US dollar and the (South African) Rand are legal tender and the worthless Zimbabwean dollar has been abandoned.

“The position is still fragile as the new government will need to rely on short-term aid to rebuild infrastructure and then inward investment.

“Also the rule of law and property rights are not yet secure.

“For example, I met a white farmer who gave up four-fifths of his land in 2003 and is now being forced off the remainder – even though most of the land he vacated is now in the hands of Zimbabwean elite owners who are in the UK and US and are not farming productively.”

The team hopes the cycle ride will raise as much as £12,000 for the Health Education and Learning Programme (Help), which is building the orphanage.