Key points: Age significantly modifies the relationship between aortic pulse wave velocity and telomere length. The differential relationships observed between aortic pulse wave velocity and telomere length in younger and older individuals suggest that the links between cellular and vascular ageing reflect a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors acting over the life-course. Abstract: Ageing is associated with marked large artery stiffening. Telomere shortening, a marker of cellular ageing, is linked with arterial stiffening. However, the results of existing studies are inconsistent, possibly because of the confounding influence of variable exposure to cardiovascular risk factors. Therefore, we investigated the relationship between telomere length (TL) and aortic stiffness in well-characterized, younger and older healthy adults, who were pre-selected on the basis of having either low or high aortic pulse wave velocity (aPWV), a robust measure of aortic stiffness. Demographic, haemodynamic and biochemical data were drawn from participants in the Anglo-Cardiff Collaborative Trial. Two age groups with an equal sex ratio were examined: those aged <30 years (younger) or >50 years (older). Separately for each age group and sex, DNA samples representing the highest (n = 125) and lowest (n = 125) extremes of aPWV (adjusted for blood pressure) were selected for analysis of leukocyte TL. Ultimately, this yielded complete phenotypic data on 904 individuals. In younger subjects, TL was significantly shorter in those with high aPWV vs. those with low aPWV (P = 0.017). By contrast, in older subjects, TL was significantly longer in those with high aPWV (P = 0.001). Age significantly modified the relationship between aPWV and TL (P < 0.001). Differential relationships are observed between aPWV and TL, with an inverse association in younger individuals and a positive association in older individuals. The links between cellular and vascular ageing reflect a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors acting over the life-course.