Research has suggested that the retinal vasculature may act as a surrogate marker for diseased cerebral vessels. Retinal vascular parameters were measured using Vessel Assessment and Measurement Platform for Images of the Retina (VAMPIRE) software in two cohorts: (i) community-dwelling older subjects of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (n = 603); and (ii) patients with recent minor ischaemic stroke of the Mild Stroke Study (n = 155). Imaging markers of small vessel disease (SVD) (white matter hyperintensities [WMH] on structural MRI, visual scores and volume; perivascular spaces; lacunes and microbleeds), and vascular risk measures were assessed in both cohorts. We assessed associations between retinal and brain measurements using structural equation modelling and regression analysis. In the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 arteriolar fractal dimension accounted for 4% of the variance in WMH load. In the Mild Stroke Study lower arteriolar fractal dimension was associated with deep WMH scores (odds ratio [OR] 0.53; 95% CI, 0.32–0.87). No other retinal measure was associated with SVD. Reduced fractal dimension, a measure of vascular complexity, is related to SVD imaging features in older people. The results provide some support for the use of the retinal vasculature in the study of brain microvascular disease.