Old age is often characterised as being associated with neglect, isolation and loneliness, not least since established risks factors for loneliness include widowhood, living alone, depression and being female. Cross-sectional data have challenged the notion that loneliness is especially an old-age phenomenon but longitudinal data on loneliness is scarce. Moreover, an under-represented group in prior studies are the oldest old, those aged 85 years and more. This paper addresses these knowledge gaps using data from the Newcastle 85+ Study, a large population-based cohort aged 85 years at first interview with follow-up interviews at 18 months and three years. At baseline over half (55%) reported being always or often alone, and 41 per cent reported feeling more lonely than ten years previously, although only 2 per cent reported always feeling lonely. Women spent more time alone than men and reported more loneliness both currently and compared to the past. Length of widowhood was a key factor, with those recently widowed having twice the risk of feeling lonely and those widowed for five or more years having a lower risk of reporting increased loneliness. Overall, the findings show that loneliness is a minority experience in the oldest old but is strongly driven by length of widowhood, challenging the notion that loneliness in later life is a static experience.