BACK when the canals were first being transformed from working waterways to a key part of the UK leisure industry some bright spark invented canal 'rings' as a way of marketing holidays - but the Four Counties Ring, Cheshire Ring, Warwickshire ring and all the rest should become a thing of the past.
"The truth is that rings, although superficially attractive, as holidaymakers get to see a lot of waterway and don't have to retrace their steps, are not something we should be promoting in this day and age," says Simon Jenkins, boss of Norbury Wharf Ltd, a hire boat company and boatyard on the Shropshire Union - and the Four Counties Ring.
He believes that encouraging ring journeys gives the opposite impression of the waterways to the one the industry needs to cultivate.
"The essence of a holiday on the canals is slow, relaxed, journeys through beautiful countryside and fascinating heritage, but as soon as you set the target of completing a ring it becomes a race to get round in the time of your boat-hire or your allotted time if you are a shared ownership participant.
"That might be OK if you are taking two weeks to complete something like the Four Counties Ring but we often have people completing it in under a week and that means long days, whatever the weather, and missing most of the canalside attractions along the way, to say nothing of speeding past moored boats and eroding the canal banks with wash.
"Most importantly the holidaymakers don't get to relax and enjoy the canal itself and the places along the way. I think they would be more likely to come back if they were encouraged to plan more relaxed journeys and incorporate some of the great places they can visit.
"There are great business benefits for hire firms like ours and all the canalside towns and villages in that approach, as we get less wear and tear on our boats and the local businesses see more of the holidaymakers who are no longer rushing past to complete a ring."
Norbury is doing something about it by highlighting other options in its monthly magazine for customers and suggesting out-and-back routes that will allow them to take their time and explore along the way.
It starts by highlighting the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port - just two to three days of travelling from Norbury and a fascinating insight into the background of the very canals they are exploring.
There are plans to look at what the canalside towns and villages of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire have to offer the passing boater, as well as suggesting that hire and share boaters should remain flexible and simply travel as far as is comfortable for half their allotted time before turning back.
Simon Jenkins says: "Any experienced boater will tell you that a canal can look completely different when you are travelling in the opposite direction. It is surprising how you spot different views and it gives you a chance to repeat something, like a pub meal or a good local butcher which you enjoyed on the way out.
"I know we are particularly lucky at Norbury that we sit on one of the most beautiful canals in wonderful countryside with lots of lovely little towns and villages within easy distance, but any hire boat operator or boatyard can do the same thing. It will also decrease the pressure on the system as a whole in times like this when we have droughts and restrictions on locks."
He says it is significant that experienced boaters rarely launch out on circular journeys as they know what they like and aim to enjoy themselves without being more exhausted at the end of the holiday than when it began.