GROWING PAINS: For Good Clean Fun, Visit Moscow's Atlant

My 11-year-old daughter Sasha and I have both come out in a nasty rash of spots. Not very pleasant for either of us but understandable because she's pre-pubescent and seething with hormonal changes and I'm a teeny bit pre-menopausal and pretty seething as well (aaaarggh!!!).

The upshot being that every morning we both stare gloomily at our plum pudding faces in the bathroom mirror and viciously rub foul-smelling creams into our skin.

Until, that is, I was told by a reliable source (a Russian journalist) of this miracle-working swimming pool in the center of Moscow, filled with sea water that had been pumped straight up to Moscow from the Black Sea. The healing waters, she said, cleared up all skin complaints and also cured arthritis. It was, in a word, the very elixir of life.

Being a good Russian this interested me strangely, so this week I rushed off to the Proletarsky region of Moscow, taking a cynical Sasha with me. I also took my 8-year-old Anna because she suffers from eczema and my 5-year-old Bobby because he suffers from swimming-pool-withdrawal symptoms.

After circling for hours around a sleazy selection of meat factories and bars we finally stumbled into a drab courtyard and across the Atlant pool.

Here I found I had been misinformed. The water is indeed healing but it is taken from an underground source discovered in the last century by a drunken nobleman who fell off his horse on this very spot and slept happily in the mud all night, only to discover inthe morning that the arthritic pain in his knee had disappeared. Further investigation proved the mud had startling curative properties due to the hot water reserve a kilometer and a half below the surface, and a health spa sprang up.

In Soviet times they built an additional swimming pool for the factory workers and its water, I'm told by the pool director, is almost identical in mineral content to sea water. An oil rig-type structure behind the pool pumps up the medicinal fluid. The pool contains 20 grams of salt per liter of water, which makes it about as easy to float in as the Dead Sea - and this is diluted 15 times from the original stuff. If you fancy a dose of the true source you can always take a dip in a bath in the still-existing spa, but since even the swimming pool made me sting, I gave that a miss.

The women in our changing room had flocked from all corners of Moscow to bathe here for various skin complaints, and were busy raving about the results - but then they also used slices of raw beetroot as blusher. Personally I have to admit that what appealed to me most is that we got in without having to show the dreaded spravki medical documents. Other advantages were not having to wear swimming caps and being able to play water polo without getting shouted at. What more can you ask?

Er, clear skin? Stay tuned.